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The Hollywood Insider The Girl from Plainville Review, Elle Fanning

Photo: ‘The Girl From Plainville’

Hulu’s Star Shine Again

After starring in and shining in the comedy ‘The Great’ for Hulu, which has been a massive success for the company, Elle Fanning is back in action for the streamer, but this time in a completely different genre. Fanning stars as Michelle Carter in ‘The Girl From Plainville’, which was just released on March 29th. 

The show is a dramatization based on the real-life events surrounding the death of Conrad Roy, an 18-year-old from Massachusetts who committed suicide after being encouraged to do so by his long-distance girlfriend, Carter. Fanning is very impressive in the role that requires a difficult balance of intensity and softness in portraying Carter. It is a bold story to undertake as there really is no hero or protagonist, only varying levels of guilty people of which Carter eventually became the singular focus in the real-life court case. 

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‘The Girl From Plainville’ 

Fanning has a tough job to complete in this part by trying to make Carter empathetic while also expressing the potential evil and manipulative ways in which she operated. She is perfectly cast, able to disarm Conrad’s family and even the police initially into seeing her as an innocent bystander in the whole operation, when in reality she was openly discussing and encouraging him to follow through on the act of killing himself. Even in the golden age of anti-heroes shining on series and shows on our streamers and televisions, taking on the role of Michelle Carter is a bold endeavor for any actress, let alone one who has just carved out a name for herself in the comedy genre.

Fanning’s talent as one of our greatest actresses is on full display in ‘The Girl From Plainville.’ She is able to masterfully show her versatility as an actress with her charming and unassuming pleasant demeanor while also keeping the audience and other characters in the dark on the more evil machinations of her mind. Fanning’s abilities in this capacity shine the most in the scenes she shares with her family and what remains of her friend group. She perfectly articulates the strangeness of the character of Michelle in these scenes, portraying a character that the people closest to her don’t truly know her or her intentions.

Michelle is living what effectively comes out as a double life with her online and long-distance texting relationship with Conrad and her other life as a regular high schooler in her town. Michelle’s emotional breakdown and tears after revealing the news of Conrad’s death catch her friends and family by surprise, as they were not aware that he even existed. Fanning plays this masterfully and although she’s already established herself as a force to be reckoned with, she again has her talents on full display in this fascinating role. 

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Can We Get a Show About Mental Health Right? 

One of the things that stands out the most in the show is the way it handles the very delicate and complicated conversation around mental health. Naturally given the subject matter of the show, it is at the forefront of everything surrounding the show. Each episode begins with a disclaimer in regards to the content of the show and encourages anyone going through a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts to contact the Nation Suicide Prevention number and lists it. 

The series does spend a tremendous amount of time on the emotional state and feelings of Conrad in flashbacks to when he and Michelle first met and shows some of the aspects that led to his depressed state in terms of issues with his parents and his struggles finding his footing in high school. The show importantly draws a distinction to show that no matter what the mindset or mental state of an individual, it is never a reason to harm oneself. There is no glorification of the event or the idea of depression and suicidal thoughts or actions but shows how utterly horrible and sad it can leave those closest to you. It does a good job of depicting the consequences the act of suicide can leave and have on those that love you the most. 

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Likewise, the show focuses on the way Michelle Carter used the suicide that she helped cause as a way to make herself seem significant. The depiction of how she used Conrad’s death as a means for her own social gain and to shine a spotlight on herself comes across as truly repugnant and gross. Whether she genuinely was trying to raise awareness about mental health in the wake of his suicide out of feeling guilty for her role in it, or if she was purely trying to capitalize on the event she seems purely evil. 

The lesson the show seeks to impress upon the viewer is to remove romanticism from the idea of suicide, especially among teenagers. The series depicts the concept of how Michelle and Conrad considered themselves “Romeo and Juliet”, star-crossed lovers doomed for a failure who end their lives prematurely. Instead of glorifying the act as other shows have done before, this series sets out to put straightforward that suicide is never the answer, no matter what. 

A Season for Varying Degrees of Evil 

Something that stuck out so much to me in both the lead-up and delivery of this show was how it honestly did not feel necessary. As has been the trend for the last ten to fifteen years of prestige television, everything is singularly focused on the idea of an anti-hero protagonist. This show is another in a long line right now of shows about non-redeemable characters and this one in particular I am questioning why it needed to be made. Similar shows like ‘The Dropout’ and ‘WeCrashed’ are very well made and acted also, but they are also all about people who quite frankly, suck. 

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‘The Girl From Plainville’ is ultimately no different. I may be missing something, but to me, the character of Michelle Carter is wholly unlikeable and has no redeeming qualities. The above shows at least have something to root for as we know eventually the law and their companies are coming for them to make things right. Yes, Michelle was a young girl who made a mistake but the mistake is the biggest one you can make in costing someone their life. The show does work for what it is, but I don’t necessarily know why it is. Who was asking for this show? I remember reading this story in the news and feeling awful for all those involved. The thought never once crossed my mind of “wow I can’t wait to see this turned into a series.” It’s a horribly sad story that damaged a lot of people’s lives in the process and frankly feels like it did not need to be made. 

That being said, however, I do think Elle Fanning and her fellow castmates are doing the best they can with the story in the form it has taken. The first three episodes of ‘The Girl From Plainville’ is now streaming on Hulu. 

Cast: Elle Fanning, Chloe Sevigny, Colton Ryan | Cinematography: Elisha Christian and Kat Westergaard | Directed By: Lisa Cholodenko, Pippa Bianco, Zetna Fuentes, Liz Hannah  | Created by: Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus

By Mark Raymond

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.

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