Normal People would have flopped as a movie

‘Conversations With Friends’ director Lenny Abrahamson isn’t convinced that either Sally Rooney story would have made it on the big screen.

by Jenna Mahale
10 May 2022, 11:40am

As inevitably as there are meetings that could have been emails and novels that should have been novellas, there are entire seasons of television that might have just been better off as movies. But Sally Rooney’s Normal People is just not one of them. It’s no trundling melodrama, nor a bloated, repetitious docuseries – the BAFTA-winning, Emmy-nominated adaptation of the Irish author’s sad and sexy 2018 novel captured the hearts and minds of audiences around the world, and launched its charismatic leads to superstardom. 

While television isn’t typically characterised as a long form medium, in the binge-watch age it has inevitably become one. Over 12 episodes of around 30 minutes each, the four years of Connell and Marianne’s love story told through Rooney’s prose (often described as precise, sparing and forensic) was given a thorough and nuanced treatment; the planet got hooked on the crazy chemistry between Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones.

Could the same have been achieved in a single steamy instalment? One big blockbuster picture? Lenny Abrahamson, who directed and executive-produced Normal People as well as the forthcoming Conversations With Friends, thinks not. “Had we done Normal People or Conversations With Friends as a long feature it would have had a tiny audience,” the filmmaker told Deadline recently. “It’s really hard to get those films to stay in cinemas and audiences tend to mainly go out to see bigger tentpoles now.” It can’t help matters that large media companies are known to pour money into aggressive distribution deals, and essentially push out smaller productions in favour of their releases.  

But Lenny believes that TV audiences in general are “much more progressive than distributors, filmmakers and producers think they are”, and they do in fact enjoy “arthouse TV”. As enjoyers of arthouse TV, we agree! He continued: “The wisdom a decade ago was that high-end TV had to be sexy to keep people from changing the channel but it’s remarkable now how people are prepared to commit to something thoughtful and arthouse in its execution.” In this regard, the Sally Rooney Cinematic Universe truly gives us the best of both worlds, plus a new and exclusive Phoebe Bridgers song. Vive la télé!

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