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Conversations with Friends - Miniseries - Review

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To preface this Conversations with Friends miniseries review, let's just say I loved Normal People (book based on the same author: Sally Rooney, same creative team for the TV show: Lenny Abrahamson and writer Alice Birch), and Normal People it is not. It's not that they didn't try, because it sure seems like the team believed that the same level of quality would emerge, but there are multiple reasons why the show doesn't really work, despite the cast's efforts.

Conversations with Friends follows Frances (newcomer Alison Oliver), a young Irish student whose personal relationships veer on the "it's complicated" range. Whether with her best friend, turned lover, turned best friend again: Bobbi (Sasha Lane), or the intriguing married (and older) couple they both meet after a poetry reading: Melissa (Jemima Kirk), and especially Nick (Joe Alwyn, Mr Taylor Swift himself). From the start, changes made to the book seem not quite necessary (and I'm not on the "adaptations should be identical!" team, I appreciate a change when it works better in a different medium) and while not major, definitely contribute to the show's issues. Bobbi and Melissa aren't Irish anymore, so while the show is still set in Dublin, it doesn't really feel like it, which is a shame. Frances isn't a particularly compelling lead, either, despite Alison Oliver's interpretation, and when coupled with Nick, makes for even blander fodder. I'm not sure if this is a casting issue (it does seem like it, in the book Frances and Nick aren't particularly riveting either, but they do, somehow, work) or a writing one, but an issue it is. They barely exchange two words before suddenly being attracted to each other enough to jeopardize both a marriage and a friendship, all while never having enough chemistry or dialogue to justify it.

Twelve episodes seem (and feel) awfully long for this dull back and forth, especially when interspersed with frequent poetry readings from Frances and Bobbi, which aren't particularly scintillating either. I'm not sure if this is on purpose (they're still so young, after all) but since they're performing and getting praise on the show, I assume we're supposed to be wowed (especially since the show readily admits the play Nick acts in isn't good (but he is)) when 1. The rythm makes them hard to follow and pay attention to the actual sentences 2. they just aren't that good.

Transcribing how Frances feels from book to screen can't have been easy, since it consists mostly of internal monologues, texting with Nick, and messaging with Bobbi, but when in doubt, "show, not tell" should prevail. In this case, we aren't told anything, let alone shown, why Frances has such disregard for Melissa, who has shown her and Bobbi nothing but praise and kindness since they met, even inviting them over for a holiday in Croatia (again, why not France?). And while Bobbi admits to having a crush on Melissa and occasionally flirting with her, and even sharing a one-time kiss, she never actually acts on it and resents Nick's attraction to Frances, and her friend's reciprocation. This drives a wedge in their friendship, and even when they rekindle their relationship, Frances and Nick aren't done with each other yet. In the end, it seems they never are, or will be.

Because don't get me wrong, Frances and Nick's affair could've felt life-changing, desperate heartbreaking for all parties involved, but in this instance it's more tedious than anything. Frances feels more boring than "enigmatic and interesting", Bobbi is often abrasive, Nick's brooding and self-effacing demeanor doesn't seem to reveal much else, and Melissa is far too underutilized to inject some necessary liveliness into the whole ordeal. Despite some additionnal side-stories like Frances' complicated family life with her father's alcoholism, her ordinary and unfulfilling job, and the mystery illness we'll soon discover is endometriosis, the show doesn't handle give any of them enough substance to keep the audience invested in what it's trying to say.

All in all, I can't in good faith recommend watching this show if you're looking for something rich and worthwhile, but it's visually quite lovely and overall, well acted, if a little miscast. How did you guys like it? As usual, sound off in the comments!

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