‘Conversations With Friends’ Review: Alison Oliver’s debut is heartbreaking in another Sally Rooney winner

Director(s): Leanne Welham, Lenny Abrahamson

Writer(s): Alice Birch

Cast: Joe Alwyn, Alison Oliver, Sasha Lane, Jemima Kirke

The release of Normal People, the first Sally Rooney adaptation, came only a month into the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 and quickly took the world by storm. The melodramatic romance is a hard watch, but one of the best journeys through modern love that has been shown in a while. The leads, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, both found their fame in the show – this was Mescal’s debut, and even though Edgar-Jones had worked before, she had never done anything on this level – and have gone on to make names for themselves in the few years following the show’s release.

Conversation With Friends – Sally Rooney’s first book – takes the audience back to Trinity College – a major landmark in Normal People – to follow the lives of Frances (Alison Oliver) and Bobbi (Sasha Lane). Frances is a writer, and Bobbi, as she says, is her muse. After performing one of Frances’ poems, the pair run into renowned author Melissa (Jemima Kirke). The two are invited to her house for dinner where they meet her husband Nick (Joe Alwyn), a play-actor, and form an unexpected bond with the married couple. Over the course of the show, Frances and Nick develop an intimate relationship that will test their relationships and themselves along the way.

For her entire life, Frances – the main character of the show – has hidden her emotions from the world. She can’t speak or display her feelings, she can only do so through her writing, and her writing is where she feels the safest. She is able to find comfort in writing that she can’t through speaking about it. Alison Oliver is in her debut as an actress, and this role was perfect for her. She has the same naive and shy nature that beautifully captures the character of Frances. When she meets Nick, an equally as quiet Joe Alwyn, she finds herself in a position she has been before; being able to embrace something, or in this case someone, she loves, without being able to say it.

Conversations With Friends is vastly different than Normal People in a number of ways. Normal People had more time to build with these characters because it was covering so much of their lives, while in Conversations With Friends it is only over the course of one school year. This show is taken much slower and will require some patience, but watching Frances discover herself throughout the course of the show is worth the experience.

Throughout the show Frances lives a life of mistakes and hurt, but never of regret. As the show moves on, you become attached to all these characters, especially Nick and Frances, and you feel for them in every moment, even when some of them might not be the most likable individuals, or do what would be considered the “right” thing. It’s okay, because throughout the show it is telling you that mistakes will and are made, and one thing I love about Conversations With Friends is that it never glosses over them.

Frances, likely due to her naive nature, makes the most mistakes of anyone involved, and she has to deal with the consequences. These scenes are absolutely heartbreaking, and the performance from Oliver is equally as hard to watch. These fleeting moments are torn between what she wants and what she feels is right. She is stuck in this situation that never lets her have the thing she wants most in the world, and seeing her have to deal with the repercussions alone is difficult. You want the best from her and you want her to be okay, but for her to be happy means that other people have to get hurt in the process. This show asks the difficult question of what is right and what is fair, and seeing this play out allows for an incredibly engaging experience.

Conversations With Friends might not feel as lived in as Normal People, but this Sally Rooney adaptation effectively captures mistakes and love. Alison Oliver is a star in the making, discovering her voice as an actor and Frances’ voice as a character. A beautiful story of love in its many different forms.

Grade: B+

2022 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

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