Love is sticky and confusing and painful. And that’s when it works.
“Conversations With Friends,” based on the 2017 debut novel of Sally Rooney, her second TV adaptation after the hit “Normal People,” premiered Sunday on Hulu with the messy love story of four people: college student Frances (Alison Oliver), her best friend Bobbi (Sasha Lane), essayist Melissa (Jemima Kirke), who gravitates toward the friends at a spoken word poetry night, and Melissa’s actor husband Nick (Joe Alwyn).
Frances once loved Bobbi, but now they are just friends, or maybe friends just for now. Nick loved Melissa enough to marry her, but neither is enough for the other, or maybe what the other wants at all. Nick could love Frances and Bobbi could love Melissa and Frances definitely loves Nick and maybe still Bobbi.
“It’s about the different ways of loving people separate from the conventional structures we’re expected to comply with,” Oliver, the 23-year-old Irish actress making her screen debut as Frances, told the Daily News.
Oliver and Alwyn, better known as Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, have less chemistry than their “Normal People” predecessors in Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, and the sex is far less steamy, but the furtive, longing glances and stolen stares are just as present.
Together and apart, they zigzag in and out of each other’s lives with a reckless disregard for anyone else.
But “Conversations With Friends” doesn’t pretend its characters are perfect.
“They are definitely flawed characters and there is definitely a lot of selfishness, but ultimately they do try to find a way to be honest about what they’re doing and why,” director Lenny Abrahamson, who previously worked on “Normal People,” told The News. “Nick does tell Melissa that he’s seeing Frances; it’s not like he’s caught. There’s an intent to do the right thing, more than often happens.”
Intent only goes so far, though. People do get hurt.
“It’s really important to see, especially in young women, flawed characters. We can make mistakes. We can behave badly. But that doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person,” Oliver said.
“You see how out of her depth (Frances) is. She’s clutching at straws a lot of the time and just trying to stay afloat.”
Like “Normal People,” “Conversations With Friends” is about discovery — who you are, what you want. Discovering your body.
In a sense, the show feels voyeuristic. The viewer is in the room for Frances and Nick’s first time, for Bobbi and Frances’ big fights and the big makeups, for a world spinning around a frightful 22-year-old woman unaware of how much of an impact she has on others.
The intimacy isn’t all about the sex scenes, although those are there, too. The intimacy is in opening up to another person, or more than one other person. The intimacy is in the question of whether Frances is too immature or too naive to follow her heart, or whether that’s the only reason she feels safe enough to do so. The intimacy is in loving someone and leaving them and then coming back.
“(Rooney) creates characters that are real flesh and blood and have their weaknesses and foibles and also have their charisma and fascination. She tests them. She puts them through the cauldron of experience,” executive producer Ed Guiney told The News.
“But behind all of that there’s a desire that they come out the right side of that testing, that the testing results in growth and a capacity to be a more fully fledged human being. All of those questionable actions are, I think, reflected on by the characters, either explicitly or implicitly, and makes them fuller people.”
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