Conversation with Friends Review: Rooney TV Adaptations Go from Normal People to Abnormally Dull People
APPEARINGLY Element Pictures, the busy production company behind Conversations with Friends (BBC3, Sunday & Monday; RTÉ One out next Wednesday), bought the rights to Sally Rooney’s debut novel before beginning work on the hit Normal People, which will be the sequel to her second book based .
Apparently the original plan was to make a feature film out of it. Instead, it’s become a series that slavishly follows the exact same format (12 half-hour episodes) as its TV predecessor.
Presumably this was in the hope that lightning might strike twice. Well it hasn’t. I haven’t read any of Rooney’s novels; purely as a TV drama, however conversations with friends is no normal people
To be fair, it could never be. The latter has captured the public imagination in a way few series do. But when Abrahamson and producer Ed Guiney insist on making what is effectively a cover of their previous hit in style, tone and structure, unfavorable comparisons are inevitable.
I’ve seen six episodes of conversations with friends so far and even halfway through it’s terribly tense. It feels like there just isn’t enough material to justify those first three hours, let alone three more.
Director Lenny Abrahamson’s understated, leisurely style – something of a trademark of his now – worked perfectly for a story as emotionally intense as normal people, where a furtive glance, or a glance held just a little too long, was charged with meaning and conveyed volumes.
Here, however, the sometimes buried pace feels like nothing more than padding. There is no end to long, repetitive scenes of the 21-year-old protagonist, Frances, walking down the street, gazing somberly out of train and bus windows, or staring meaningfully into the distance.
But meaningful looks will only get you so far. They also need some dramatic weight, something that’s in short supply here.
normal people worked because we were invested in Connell and Marianne. We took care of what happened to them. It’s harder to take care of the four people trapped in a romantic square conversations with friends when they are largely unsympathetic.
No more so than Frances (Alison Oliver, a screen newcomer like Paul Mescal before her), a part-time poet.
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She and her former lover-turned-best-friend, Bobbi (Irish in the book but played here by American Sasha Lane), both final year Trinity students, perform their spoken word songs to an unusually tall and appreciative audience audiences in Dublin clubs.
Frances is quiet, withdrawn to the point where she’s barely there — though her reserve reportedly hides a fervent intelligence. We have to trust that because there is nothing here to indicate that.
In contrast, Bobbi is muzzled, judgmental, and confrontational, with a snide remark for just about everyone and everything.
They attract the attention of successful English author Melissa (another character who was Irish in the book), played by Jemima Kirke, who is married to somewhat famous actor Nick (Joe Alwyn).
Nothing in the script explains why Melissa should be so intrigued by these two, but they are immediately introduced to the older couple’s privileged bubble world of dinner parties and book launches, and even invited on vacation to Croatia.
Bobbi and Melissa flirt and kiss, but Alison and Nick end up in a passionate affair. As in normal people, The sex scenes are plentiful and believable, albeit never for nothing.
If only we liked the characters half as much as they do each other.
Alwyn is too anemic (and probably too young) to be convincing as a cosmopolitan older man.
The more we see of Alison, the more she seems needy, grumpy, irritable, and self-absorbed, like a scowling child among adults. Her solipsism drains us of any sympathy we might have for her – which is quite a detriment when that’s her only perspective we have.
This is hardly Oliver’s fault; she can only play what is written. Whatever worked on the page doesn’t seem to have translated as well on screen this time. This is slow, boring, drawn out stuff.
Six hours is plenty of time to splash around in the shallows.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv-reviews/conversation-with-friends-review-rooney-tv-adaptations-go-from-normal-people-to-abnormally-dull-people-41652129.html Conversation with Friends Review: Rooney TV Adaptations Go from Normal People to Abnormally Dull People