There are never clear answers in Conversations with friends, Hulu’s latest miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Sally Rooney. Long, tense half-arguments end in unresolved frustration. People connect and kiss without explaining whether those sparks of romance are signifiers of boredom or something more. The characters preach about sexual openness until they are confronted with the reality of this label. In many ways, it’s a long, drawn-out, exhausting mess, which makes it more than relatable. When it comes to the kinds of relationships we now look upon with shame, Conversations with friends is honest.
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Based on Rooney’s debut novel, the series revolves around Francis (Alison Oliver), a college student who puts on a brave face despite knowing little about herself. Although she has strong opinions, almost everything she does is a reflection of her ex-girlfriend and current best friend, Bobbi (Sasha Lane). Her thoughts are often toned down versions of Bobbi’s fiery takes and extensions of her friends from Bobbi’s circle. That changes completely once Francis and Bobbi befriend Melissa (Jemima Kirke), a bestselling writer. While Bobbi loves this mysterious woman, Francis sets her sights on Melissa’s calmer husband, Nick (Joe Alwyn). It doesn’t take long before they start their own steamy affair. In the process, Francis begins to discover the woman she really is and, most importantly, who she wants to be.
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So many things about Conversations with friends is predictable. At its core, it’s a story we’ve seen a million times before, about a young woman who has an affair with a married man only to have that affair blow up in his face. But it’s over Conversations with friends‘ almost slow pace as its great arc becomes clear. Every emotional beat is described in such painstaking detail that you can feel the full weight of everything from Francis’ excitement to his creeping regret. The end result is a series that fully understands what drives some people to cheat and can explain that shameful impulse to its audience. Midway through the series, you know why Francis is sleeping with Nick, and you know exactly why that’s both right and wrong.
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It is this lack of moral decision-making that makes Conversations with friends feel most tonally similar to normal people. Throughout the series, Francis does a lot of questionable things. Some of them are probably unforgivable. Yet the show itself never judges Francis or mindlessly supports her. Instead, he basks in the mess of his ever-changing emotions and partially formed thoughts as she helps destroy this marriage.
In Conversations with friends, the Hollywood myth of a clear relationship is nothing more than that – a myth. Keep your dream weddings and love sagas tied to fate. This one’s for the tangled relationships we all miss, the ones practically designed to cause endless anxiety.