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Conversations with Friends Review: A Youthful Elegy on Personal Relationships

Irish author Sally Rooney has become the international literary world’s starlet. Rooney has only published three novels so far, but each of them has managed to become massive hits in several countries. However, her fame skyrocketed when her second novel, Normal People, was adapted for a series starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. It was her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, that initially put her on the map, marking her as a standout writer in her generation. With her novels set in Ireland with Irish characters, a particular sense of universality can be seen in her young, female protagonists.

The adaption of Conversations with Friends was first announced in February 2020 before the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed. It was to be released on the same streaming platform that the Normal People adaptation was released on—Hulu— and had the same core creative team as Normal People. Double the length of other popular miniseries released in 2022, Conversations with Friends clocks in at exactly twelve episodes, all of which were available to stream simultaneously. Each episode is split into thirty-minute portions, making them digestible to split up and watch.

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It Begins With a Passionate Affair

Newcomer Alison Oliver stars as Frances, the main protagonist of Conversations with Friends. Twenty-four-year-old Oliver snagged an audition for the series fresh out of acting school in Dublin and landed the role, which will most likely be her breakthrough performance. Like her predecessor Daisy Edgar-Jones, she may be set up for potential stardom if the series performs well. Actors Sasha Lane (Loki, The Miseducation of Cameron Post), Joe Alwyn (The Favorite, Boy Erased), and Jemima Kurke (Girls, Sex Education) round out the rest of this small cast. Together, they are creating a tight-knit atmosphere that revolves solely around the lives of the four characters they portray.

Frances (Alison Oliver) is twenty-one and a college student in Dublin. A bit shy, at the beginning of the series, she has a tendency to be framed alone, appearing almost small in the camera’s gaze. Her best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobbi (Sasha Lane) also happens to be Frances’ slam poetry partner, which places viewers at the beginning of this story. One night after performing at a local venue, they meet a well-known writer (Jemima Kurke), who, in turn, introduces them to her husband. This begins a series of complicated threads that binds these four characters together to the point where it almost becomes painful.

The writer’s husband, Nick, meets with Frances more, sparking a romantic affair. Their relationship is straightforward on the screen, but it is much more complicated than that story-wise. Conversations with Friends refuses to diminish the emotional impacts their relationship has on each other—there is no denying that what these two have may be greater than the pieces of Nick’s marriage. Or, at least, from the perspective that the show sets it up to be. With sex scenes that feel more amplified than the ones seen in Normal People, the relationship between Nick and Frances is supposed to be electric, almost magnetic.

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A Study in Character Relationships

Bobbi presents a different problem in this equation. Her relationship with Frances is full of tender moments, a devotion that could be present through love. While they may have once romantically loved each other, Bobbi and Frances in the present moment are set up to be platonic soulmates. Their relationship demands a specific form of intimacy lost as soon as there are secrets between the two. The two seem to be opposites at first, as Frances is an introvert and Bobbi is an extrovert. As Nick comes into the equation, Bobbi’s and Frances’ shifting relationship is something to study as the show progresses. While the two may have broken up a long time ago, there is still something between them.


Although the passive Nick and quiet Frances seem to have a mutual understanding, Bobbi has a long, deep history with Frances. In their interactions, it becomes increasingly obvious that Nick and Frances may not last much longer and will remain a brief, passionate memory. He seems unwilling to leave his wife for Frances, even as their affair ramps up its pace and intensity. The two lack a particular brand of chemistry as well, leading to even more questions about the fate of their relationship outside of sexual intimacy. Even at the beginning of their affair, Nick even chastises himself by texting Frances, “I’m older than you and it was my wife’s birthday.”

There is something inherently youthful about the way that Conversation with Friends unfolds. Whether it is a character failing to communicate what they are thinking, moving conversations and plotlines further with a shot of Frances texting, or indie songs placed to insulate some of the lonelier moments, the show feels like something inherently for and about one’s problematic youth. As Frances lays on the bathroom floor in pain, clutching her abdomen, this is a familiar routine for a lot of young women around the world.


Coming-of-age stories geared towards young women have been a rarity until recent times. The movie and television world has been dominated by men in positions of power, so a lack of genuine stories from female perspectives has become an increasing problem. What was particularly remarkable about Sally Rooney’s work is that she placed her stories at the center of female protagonists’ minds in an authentic manner. Normal People and Conversations with Friends have both managed to be adapted for the screen faithfully, so the essence of Rooney’s stories was preserved in the story’s adaptation.

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Lost in The Protagonist’s Head

One fallback about Conversations with Friends is the lack of screen time dedicated to Melissa, Nick’s wife. She is the source of her own marriage’s downfall, as she invited Bobbi and Frances into her home and life, but outside of being the wife who has been cheated on, she lacks a particular role in the series. Kurke does an excellent job of making the small moments where she is on camera meaningful, but because the viewer is limited to Frances’ perspective, Melissa is lost as a character. While she is not reduced to an archetype in this narrative, she is simply lost in the story.


Silence, too, becomes a portion of scenes, which makes sense for Frances and Nick. Both live in the shadows of the introverted people in their life: Melissa and Bobbi. While the two may not have much to say, their texts help propel the plot and bring more depth to their relationship. In other moments, scenes are filled with long looks, bringing the story to a crashing halt and dragging the pace down even further.

The acting found on the show is stellar, which is expected from the names on this cast list. While some may find it hard to adjust to Joe Alwyn’s performance as Nick, it helps to keep in mind that his character is intended to be a stoic, more reserved individual. The script’s limitations keep actors confined to their character’s key personality traits (e.g. introverted or extroverted), which they all do quite well. There is a particular nuance to Melissa and Bobbi even if these two are seen through Frances’ filtered lens. While Melissa does not become a martyr in the brief moment viewers see her, Bobbi also is not just the girl everyone likes as well.

Unfortunately, Conversations with Friends will be unable to escape the comparisons to its predecessor, Normal People. Fans of the previous series would potentially find Conversations with Friends to be lackluster. This miniseries is about the relationships between the characters and how they shift between changing dynamics, and in twelve brief episodes only so much can be shown. Perhaps this happens to be one of the limits of trendy miniseries; they are forced to put so much into a short amount of time frame, leading to scripts that lack full plot and character development in favor of having everything told.

Conversations with Friends falls victim to this, thus becoming quite bland, slow, and repetitive at times in favor of an isolating shot. It can be painstaking at times, but one way of looking at it is that it is indicative of the moments when one looks back at their own youth. Some moments end up being quite awkward, or some pretty cringe-worthy decisions influenced by other people or the current circumstances of life.

All twelve episodes of Conversations with Friends were released on May 15, 2022.


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