This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
The Pitch: Series co-creators Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus keep the true-crime story wave going with The Girl From Plainville, an eight-part limited series based on the “texting suicide case.” In 2014, Conrad Roy III died by suicide in Mattapoisett, Massachussets — this tragedy eventually garnered national attention as investigators learned of the role that the teen’s girlfriend, Michelle Carter, played in his death.
Roy’s and Carter’s motivations were previously explored in Erin Lee Carr’s 2019 documentary, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter – and, of course, in all the preceding media coverage of the groundbreaking case. But The Girl From Plainville uses artistic license to venture deeper into the minds of these adolescents, and track how a chance meeting in Florida could lead to such devastation.
The Star-Crossed Lovers (or, the Victim and the Defendant): Elle Fanning stars as Michelle Carter, the eponymous teen girl whose actions in the days leading up to Conrad’s death remain as appalling as they are difficult to understand. Hannah and Macmanus lead their own investigation into Michelle’s background, which includes hospitalization for an eating disorder and what we might now describe as an over-reliance on parasocial relationships.
Michelle has already begun to weave her tale of a great, ultimately doomed love to anyone who will listen, but the series quickly points out the cracks in her story. “Conrad’s dead,” she tearfully declares to her parents David (Kai Lennox) and Gail (Carla Buono) one morning as they sit at the breakfast table. Gail, nonplussed, responds: “Who’s Conrad?”
In this way, The Girl From Plainville regularly challenges the assertions we might be forming: about Michelle, about Conrad, about where the culpability lies. Which isn’t to say that the Hulu drama is some kind of head trip or genre exercise (though it does offer several heightened moments, including what might be the greatest on-screen use of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” to date).