In “The Girl From Plainville,” which premieres Tuesday on Hulu, Elle Fanning stars as Michelle Carter, who rose to fame in 2015 when she was charged with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III (Colton Ryan). ), committing suicide in the ensuing trial (historical spoiler alert), which found Carter convicted, made national news, covered in well-researched magazine articles and poorly reported social media posts. It is also the subject of the 2019 HBO two-part documentary “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter” and the 2018 Lifetime Movie “Conrad & Michelle: If Words Could Kill.” she seemed easy to hate, at that moment, at a glance.
Michelle and Conrad, called Coco by her family, met in real life while on vacation in Florida; They lived not far from each other in Massachusetts, but carried on their subsequent relationship remotely, mostly through text messages, a flurry of words with which they built a disastrous bubble. It was these texts, demonstrating Conrad’s determination to commit suicide and Michelle’s determination to help or compel—that is the question—to do so, that made up the bulk of the case. And it was a text from Michelle to a friend confessing (or claiming) that it was her fault Conrad died that led to her conviction: In the middle of gassing herself in a truck in a Kmart parking lot, she freaked out and got out, she wrote. michelle, and she told him to go back inside.
Created by Liz Hannah (“The Post”) and Patrick Macmanus (“Dr. Death”), with Lisa Cholodenko (“Unbelievable”) directing the first two episodes, the new miniseries is thoughtful and intelligent. Like most series of its kind in the hook ’em and hold ’em era of broadcasting, it is, at eight episodes, longer than it needs to be, but the individual scenes are well written and well acted, with a minimum of filling. the tone is neither sensationalist nor critical. you can see it well. touches on the main factual bases, with the usual adjustments for narrative convenience. (For some reason, Michelle is depicted as being 18 at the time of Conrad’s death, when she was a year younger.) if some of her dramatic stunts raise questions or feel a bit ridiculous, it’s not hard to understand the thinking behind them.
in particular, the text exchanges between conrad and michelle are enacted by the characters face-to-face: in each other’s rooms, on a country lane at night against a chorus of crickets, on a pier, etc. (we soon deduce from the context clues that they are not actually together). it is a sensible alternative to forcing the viewer to read the texts, or having them read them with voiceovers, and allows the actors to bring emotional context and dramatic form to exchanges; let “the girl from plainville” be a love story instead of a crime story. makes a different case than one might have read in the news.
artistically, there is nothing wrong with this: it comprises a kind of epistolary work, like “love letters”, within the work. and interpretation is part of the process. There are many ways to play Romeo and Juliet. Any instruction Shakespeare leaves for posterity must be drawn from the text itself. however, as a story, plainville is inescapably a hollywood miniseries, refracted through the writers, the directors, the actors, and the entire creative pipeline. is no better than partially true, as much as it could be essentially true.
Spanning the police investigation, trial build-up, and courtroom scenes, the series proceeds in two tracks: one beginning with Conrad and Michelle meeting, the other progressing from the discovery of her body. They come together at the end in an episode that spares no poetic license or a few elegant flourishes to suggest Conrad’s mood on his last day: slow motion, shallow focus, sunlight, nature scenes.
Since the end is set at the beginning, there is a feeling that we are waiting, a long time, for things to come to a head. to the extent that we invest in the characters, we are less interested in the results than in the blame, not the story, but the story behind the story, which we can’t really know but have to decide for ourselves . Conrad and Michelle were, after all, in important ways mysteries to their own families, and even if we haven’t necessarily been diagnosed with depression and social anxiety, or contemplated suicide, we’ve all been teenagers, and many of us are lonely teenagers, for that matter. a spell, that he might have had trouble imagining a less painful tomorrow. Grown-ups may have some thoughts about kids these days with their phones and their headphones, and “the girl from plainville” is glad you have them.
the show belongs to fanning, chloë sevigny as conrad’s mother, lynn and, to a lesser extent, ryan, although the character of conrad is somewhat fixed, introverted and opaque; his suicidal intent, which rarely falters, makes him both a catalyst and a victim. sevigny is excellent, used in different ways before and after the death of her son, handling it carefully but without gloves in life, more sad than vindictive afterwards. she never does too much. There are many other characters, including Norbert Leo Butz as Conrad’s father and Lynn’s ex-husband (loving, obtuse); Kelly Aucoin as detective on the case; aya cash as prosecutor (ambitious) and michael mosley as defender (hopeful); and various friends and so-called friends and family members. they have their moments, but they are outside the main emotional axis of the series.
In a nuanced performance, where nuance can easily give way to histrionics, Fanning finds surprising variety in Michelle without making her seem too contradictory; in fact, the series is ordered in a way that makes us view her initially with skepticism and then with some degree of compassion: at first a manipulative liar, who orchestrates events for her own emotional gain, and later a person whose relationship to the truth it’s complicated beyond her ability to understand, a girl who’s not in control. (she had her own mental health issues; she had a history of bulimia and cutting herself). that her reason for encouraging conrad to end her life was to feel powerful, or to become a sympathetic figure and thus win friends, is a plainville simplification she manages to avoid. Only in the courtroom scenes, where Michelle remains silent, does the fanning (a good physical match for the woman she’s playing) seem to be working on the surface, mimicking the video record, imitating rather than embodying. /p>
it is not, as it could be in “law & order” or something like that, a similar story, absolutely free to embroider, but using the real names of its main actors and their real words, court transcripts and other recorded statements; The vlog-style videos made by the real Conrad Roy are recreated right down to the facial expressions. at the same time, it is held together, turned into television by, made-up scenes and conversations and even fantasy sequences, including a couple of musical numbers. (Michelle Carter was very affected by the series “glee”). television and movies play in this sandbox all the time: biopics and docudramas are a trap for producers and actors; they get press, they win awards, but whether they get you closer or further away from the truth of the matter is fundamentally impossible to tell. they are hypothetical at best, opportunistic at worst.
That doesn’t mean that speculative drama is useless. can generate questions to fuel the dialogue you’re bound to have with any such series: Is this part real? Is that part made up?, which can also become a dialogue with yourself. “Plainville” might make you think more generally about responsibility, about the media selling children images of love wrapped in death, about how ready we are to believe we know what we only think we know. it can at least remind you that, in an age fueled by reductive statements about everything under the sun, nothing human is as simple as it seems.