Potent parley: Rehashing 'Conversations with Friends'

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Dana Simpson / TV Media
Jemima Kirke, Sasha Lane, Alison Oliver and Joe Alwyn in "Conversations With Friends"

Jemima Kirke, Sasha Lane, Alison Oliver and Joe Alwyn in "Conversations With Friends"

In 2017, Irish author Sally Rooney launched her debut novel, a novel whose title transcends boundaries and instantly reminds us of something we've all experienced at some point in our lives, no matter our age or background: "Conversations with Friends."

Five years later, after the success of her other novel-turned-series, "Normal People," Rooney gets the chance to see those conversations come to life on Hulu. "Conversations with Friends" premieres Sunday, May 15, on the streaming platform.

Based around the novel's main character Frances (new talent Alison Oliver) and her relationship with her ex-girlfriend-turned-best friend, Bobbi (Sasha Lane, "American Honey," 2016), "Conversations With Friends" painfully illustrates the complications that arise in love, friendship and across other various forms of human attraction. While Frances and Bobbi's romantic relationship has been over for approximately three months by the beginning of the series, it's clear the pair are still inseparable. Trouble begins to brew, however, when the two 20-somethings become interested in a slightly older married couple.

Melissa (Jemima Kirke, "Girls") and Nick Conway (Joe Alwyn, "The Favourite," 2018), a 37-year-old writer and her early-30s actor husband, come onto the screen as the newest additions to Frances and Bobbi's relationship. Bold and confident, Melissa is immediately intriguing to the young Trinity College poetry students — particularly Bobbi — while Nick sparks an immediate curiosity in Frances.

As the plot pushes forward and the two twosomes become a unique foursome, the successful married couple's confidence and experience intermingle with the younger women's interests and desires to create a potentially detrimental relationship dynamic. As a result, Frances and Bobbi end up taking sides in the Conways' relationship, ultimately forcing a wedge between the two best friends.

The show's director Lenny Abrahamson, perhaps familiar to Rooney-content TV fans as the producer/director of "Normal People," addressed the story's one-of-a-kind construction in a February 2022 interview with Vanity Fair.

"You have these various permutations within that quartet of relationships and power dynamics and attraction," Abrahamson said of the series. Though he does go on to note that "all of it revolves around Frances."

Those who read the novel might recall Rooney's distinctive writing style; the author frequently blends various styles of communication — text message threads, emails, etc. — to provide readers with what appears to be inside information. But literary Rooney fans have nothing to worry about when it comes to translating the process to the screen, as the author, who is also one of the show's producers, assured readers of the production team's intent to keep some parity with the book's tone.

Jemima Kirke and Sasha Lane in "Conversations With Friends"

Jemima Kirke and Sasha Lane in "Conversations With Friends"

"I'm confident we're going to find fresh and interesting ways of dramatizing the novel's dynamics, and I'm excited to watch the process take shape‎," Rooney said in a February 2020 statement.

A September 2019 interview with PBS Newshour's Jeffrey Brown offers even more insight into how the novel's tone affects the storyline as a whole.

"I suppose what I was trying to do was observe the texture of the world that I myself was inhabiting," Rooney told Brown. "Even though all the characters are completely fictional and their exploits are very much figments of my imagination, the world that they live in was and is very similar to the world that I was living in as I wrote the book."

Needless to say, the creative team has a lot to translate to the small screen, though it should be no problem for Rooney and her seasoned Hulu collaborators Abrahamson, Alice Birch (screenwriter), Catherine Magee (series producer), Ed Guiney (executive producer), Nathan Nugent (film editor), Suzie Lavelle (cinematographer), and Louise Kiely and Karen Scully (casting), all of whom previously worked on "Normal People."

While "Conversations With Friends" can be interpreted as a coming-of-age story, the themes that pervade the narrative make it available to many demographics. That said, the rumors of steamy scenes and unsettling situations may make it more appropriate for viewers older than high school age.

Regardless of the audience, however, over the course of its 12 hour-long episodes, "Conversations with Friends" taps into human nature by putting often-uncomfortable focus on the thoughts and experiences that drive our lives individually and as a part of the collective conscience.

In fact, one of the series' (and book's) pervading messages is spoken aloud by Bobbi in the trailer: "People can be in love and have meaningful relationships with other people." And while, on the surface, this statement may seem obvious, the characters prove some things may be easier said than done. And in true Rooney fashion, other things may be easier just left unsaid.

After all, when it comes to conversations with friends, it's often the things that go unsaid that prove to be the most powerful — for better or for worse.

Don't miss Hulu's newest collaboration with Irish author and Millennial messenger Sally Rooney when "Conversations with Friends" premieres Sunday, May 15, on Hulu.