Review by Tatiana Miranda
Book-to-show adaptations typically have the unfortunate standard to both be true to the original as well as create something unique in regard to television. This is the case with the new Hulu series Conversations with Friends, which is based on a book of the same name by Sally Rooney, author of another book adapted by Hulu, Normal People. Both shows are directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Alice Birch, so stylistic similarities between them are bound to appear. Rooney’s classic miscommunication trope and pensive characters are key aspects of the series, both are qualities that made Normal People so special but are the cause of several flaws in Conversations with Friends.
Conversation with Friends follows Frances, a student in Dublin and spoken word poet, and her best friend and ex-lover Bobbi as they grow close to older married couple Melissa and Nick. Friendships and romantic affairs explore what it means to love someone and what it’s like to be in a variety of relationships. Ultimately though, it is a very awkward love story between Nick and Frances, similarly to that of Normal People’s Connor and Marianne. Yet, whereas the awkward relationship in Normal People is still attractive in its own way, Frances and Nick never reach the point where awkward turns into admirable. The series’s fast pacing to get to the start of their relationship leaves hardly any time for interactions between the two and gives them little to no chemistry as they have their first kiss.
While lack of communication is still apparent in the book, the series takes it to an extreme, opting for quiet, mundane scenes of character study instead of interactions between characters that allude to inner emotions. Nick and Frances’s quietness makes them ultimately uninteresting characters compared to their counterparts Bobbi and Melissa. This is especially ironic as Bobbi points out later in the series that she is not any more interesting than Frances. As the main character, Frances is not what one would normally expect, as she is extremely passive and mundane. In the book that is what makes her so interesting, as her inner thoughts counter her outward actions, but the show adaption lacks an exploration of this duality, although one can be glad that it doesn’t utilize a voiceover as other book adaptions often do.
The exploration of Frances, Bobbi, Nick, and Melissa’s communal relationship is a very interesting one that differs from the monogamous relationships that perpetrate much of literature and television, yet, it is hindered by the poor pacing of the show. Beautifully done intimate sex scenes and philosophical interactions between friends mix with poor bouts of dialogue between lovers and repetitive moments of very silent introspection that drag on unnecessarily. While Normal People’s leisurely pacing is one of its highlights, in Conversations with Friends it drags on and becomes repetitive and uninteresting, much like the series’s characters.
Conversations with Friends takes on a lofty challenge to match the hype of Normal People as well as adhere to the source material, and its achievement in matching both book and series predecessor is what ultimately makes it a flawed show, as Conversations with Friends and Normal People are inherently different structurally. Whereas Normal People features two main characters that the series can focus on and utilize to balance out stylistic pensive moments, Conversations with Friends is centered on Frances, leaving its pensive moments one-sided and therefore repetitive.
Conversations with Friends begins streaming on Hulu on May 15th. All twelve episodes reviewed.
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