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Review: ‘Conversations with Friends’ Doesn’t Grip Quite Like ‘Normal People,’ But It’s a Raw & Real Portrait of Millennial Life

Sally Rooney has easily been one of the most buzzed-about authors of the past five years. With her three books—Conversations with Friends (2017), Normal People (2018) and Beautiful World, Where Are You (2021)—she has garnered acclaim from readers and fellow writers alike, for her vivid and honest portrayals of young adults.

In 2020, Rooney shot to even greater fame as she helped adapt her second novel, Normal People, into a Hulu series, which also gained critical acclaim (it has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and ultimately earned three Primetime Emmy nominations.

Now, the same crew that brought Normal People to the screen have come together to adapt Rooney's first novel, Conversations with Friends, which follows two young women attending college in Dublin, who find their lives romantically intertwined with an older artistic couple. The book has been transformed into a 12-episode miniseries, and while lovers of Normal People may not find this adaptation as compelling, Conversations with Friends remains an intriguing portrait of millennial life.

The series starts out with Frances (Alison Oliver) and Bobbi (Sasha Lane), two former lovers who are now best friends that attend college together. We learn that the pair frequent open mic nights, where they perform slam poetry, alternating between lines of feminist, satirical commentary on everyday life.

One night, during one of their performances, they catch the eye of Melissa Conway (Jemima Kirke), a popular writer who expresses her interest in the duo and asks them to hang out. Soon after, Melissa invites the two back to her house, where they meet her husband, Nick Conway (Joe Alwyn), a stage actor.

From the first episode, we can tell that things are going to get complicated as Melissa and Bobbi start getting closer, while Nick and Frances develop a strong connection as well. However, this is no Deep Water, and any infidelity does not feel like it's going to lead down a path of murder and crime, but rather, in typical Rooney fashion, this series explores the heartbreaking nuances of these relationships.

Enda Bowe/Hulu

While it may feel unfair to compare this series to Normal People, it is likely that those who were first drawn to Rooney's work because of that adaptation will have it in mind as they watch Conversations with Friends. And unfortunately, while the characters and the romance of Normal People were highly compelling from the beginning, Conversations does not provide that same urgency or binge-ability. It is far more of a slow burn.

Meanwhile, some of the conversations between the characters in Conversations with Friends are even hard to watch (the irony is not lost on us). Early on, it is clear that there is a divide between our four main characters. Bobbi and Melissa are presented as outgoing, adventurous, more free-spirited, while Frances and Nick are seen as much more reserved, shy and even somewhat awkward. When the latter two are left to chat with one another, their back-and-forth feels very clunky, and the viewer experiences the discomfort along with them.

Enda Bowe/Hulu

However, some viewers may relish the realistic way in which this show depicts the reality of not knowing what to say. And while Conversations with Friends may not jump as quickly into the hot and heavy romance like Normal People did, it still provides a compelling portrayal of young adult life, specifically for millennials.

One of the most interesting themes introduced from the first episode is the idea of technology as a form of communication. While Nick and Frances may act nervous in social situations, and especially around one another, their connection first begins through text messages. Their notes to one another are kind, supportive and even somewhat flirty, and they're able to communicate more adeptly on the phone than they can in person.

In addition to the way technology has influenced millennial relationships, Conversations with Friends also explores expanding politics (Frances is described by Bobbi as a communist), the fluidity of romantic relationships, increasing demands of careers and more. This series may move at a glacial pace, but many viewers will appreciate the way in which its characters feel real and relatable.

Enda Bowe/Hulu

Purewow Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5 Stars

For those who loved Normal People, don't go into Conversations with Friends expecting the same thing. While the show maintains Sally Rooney's knack for painting raw characters, it is much more of a slow burn and some may find the awkward moments to be too much. However, for millennials, this miniseries offers a realistic depiction of the struggles and complicated dynamics between these characters.

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