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TV Review: Conversations with Friends is an Emotional, Cautionary Tale About All-Consuming Love

Feeling unacknowledged by the friends and family members they care the most about is a powerful motivator for some people to take drastic measures to garner the attention they desire. That’s certainly the case for actress Alison Oliver’s protagonist of Frances in Hulu’s new television series, Conversations with Friends, which was directed and executive produced in part by Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Lenny Abrahamson.

The character’s trauma was first introduced in the 2017 novel of the same name by Irish author Sally Rooney that the show is based on. Like in the book, the screen adaptation follows Frances as her journey to secure complete acceptance from the people in her life comes out in unpredictable, sometimes destructive ways.

Conversations with Friends follows Frances, a 21-year-old college student, as she navigates a series of relationships that force her to confront her own vulnerabilities for the first time. Frances is observant, cerebral and sharp, while her ex-girlfriend, now best friend, Bobbi (Sasha Lane) is self-assured, outspoken and compelling. Though they broke up three years ago, Frances and Bobbi are virtually inseparable and perform spoken word poetry together in their hometown of Dublin.

It’s at one of their shows that they meet Melissa (Jemima Kirke), a confident and successful writer, and her husband, Nick (Joe Alwyn), a handsome but reserved actor. While Melissa and Bobbi start to openly flirt with each other, Nick and Frances embark on an intense secret affair that surprises them both. But the affair soon begins to test the bond between Frances and Bobbi, which forces Frances to not only reconsider her sense of self, but also the friendship she holds so dear.

The series admirably tries to adapt the growing emotional intensity of the novel’s central ever-evolving romance between Frances and Nick, but unfortunately fails in certain respects. Rooney’s book successfully delves into explicit detail about the diverse feelings the introverted protagonist grapples with as she tries to balance her sense of conflict over the affair with her other relationships and career aspirations.

But Frances’ struggles over her looming transition into adulthood during her last year in college are largely compressed in the screen adaptation, which features 12 half-hour episodes. Over the drama’s six-hour first season, her story isn’t fully developed, as she’s forced to balance several obstacles.

Those challenges include Frances deciding how she wants to pursue her long-held literary aspirations; learning how to keep her friendship with Bobbi intact, despite them having different personalities and views, particularly on romance and how they should connect with Melissa and Nick; and how she should approach her relationships with her divorced parents when she returns home to the countryside from her school in Dublin to visit them.

As a result, it’s difficult at times to gather a sense of what the protagonist is truly feeling, as she has an introverted personality, and tends to internalize her true emotions in order to preserve the peace in her relationships. As a result of her reserved nature, the dialogue written for her is stilted at times.

But that abruptness does help the viewers understand the confusion the other people in her life, particularly her mother, Bobbi and Nick, are feeling when they’re talking to her, especially during times of conflict and tension. The abridged way Frances speaks to the people in her life reflects how she’s often the most vulnerable while she’s privately discussing her personal feelings. Conversely, she’s often the most comfortable performing her poetry that criticizes society on stage with Bobbi.

While the Conversations with Friends show occasionally falters in fully and precisely translating Frances’ intricate backstory, Oliver gives a radiant, endearing performance as the story’s protagonist. The actress enthrallingly expresses her character’s emotions through her body language, especially during the moments where she doesn’t verbally share her true feelings.

Whether Frances is making such movements as covering her face with her hair to hide her insecurities from Nick, or putting a physical barrier between her and Bobbi to protect herself from her friend’s questions about her decisions, Oliver effortlessly expresses her character’s emotions in a physical way. The performer naturally showcases how her character instinctively goes into self-preservation mode during moments of stress through her change in physical demeanor.

Overall, the Conversations with Friends screen adaptation is an emotionally gripping exploration into Frances’ journey to secure undivided reassurance from the people she loves. While the series suffers from underdeveloped dialogue and compressed conversations in some scenes, in order to cover the overarching plot points of Rooney’s book, Oliver proves she has a true understanding of her protagonist’s desire to be completely love and accepted.

Hulu is premiering all twelve episodes of Conversations with Friends today, May 15.

Grade: B

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the series.

Karen Benardello
Karen Benardellohttps://cinemadailyus.com
As a life-long fan of films and television shows, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic in 2008. Karen has since been working in the press in New York City, including interviewing film and television casts and crews, writing movie and television news articles and reviewing films and televisions series. Some of her highlights include attending such local events as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and New York Comic-Con, as well as traveling across North America to attend such festivals as the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has been a member of the Women Film Critics Circle since 2012, and the New York Film Critics Online since 2019.


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