SXSW Review: Hulu’s The Girl From Plainville Is an Introspective Drama Uninterested in Excuses

Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan lead this true-crime series rooted in tragedy

Girl From Plainville Review
The Girl From Plainville (Hulu)

    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).

    While the facts mostly remain the facts (though there’s the standard disclaimer about some of the names and events having been changed), and while it offers new context for those less familiar with the real-life events, the series is ultimately more curious than compassionate towards Michelle.

    Unlike other recent ripped-from-the-headlines series, The Girl From Plainville is just as invested, if not more so, in the life of the victim. Conrad — “Coco” to his loved ones, but not to Michelle, another early sign that their relationship is not as it seems — is regularly at the center of the story. The first episode grounds us in the tragic scene at the Walmart parking lot in 2014, then follows Conrad’s mother Lynn (Chloë Sevigny) as she has the heartbreaking realization that she didn’t know her son as well as she thought.

    Throughout the remaining episodes, Conrad (Colton Ryan) comes to life via regular flashbacks: a sweet yet anxious boy who struggles to connect with kids his age. At one point, he admits to Michelle that he finds it easier to talk to the adult men working on his dad’s (Norbert Leo Butz asr Conrad Jr. a.k.a. “Co”) tugboats.


    There’s no trace of the poised and imperious Catherine (as in, The Great) in Fanning’s performance. Here, she plays a much more awkward young woman one who would appear to have everything but who has no real friends. Fanning still gives off a discomfiting zeal; the gleam in her eyes as she recreates a scene from Glee or runs on the treadmill is enough to make you flinch.

    Michelle comes on too strong with everyone, including Susie (Pearl Amanda Dickson), whom she believes to be a fellow outcast. That’s something Michelle has in common with Conrad, too, though the teens address their isolation in markedly different ways. Ryan captures Conrad’s mix of anger and misery, while still providing glimpses of the intermittent hope the young man felt as he finished school and earned his captain’s license.

    Objectionably Dull Courtroom Drama: As well-matched as Fanning and Ryan are, The Girl From Plainville views Michelle and Conrad’s meeting as a kind of disaster, the first in a series of tragedies.


    “I don’t know if it’s bad or good that you understand me this way,” Conrad tells Michelle after months of discussing his suicidal ideation. Early on, their connection would seem to be Conrad’s saving grace, and even as it demonstrates how Michelle saw Conrad’s pleas as an opportunity for the role of a lifetime — that of the grieving girlfriend — the series stops short of depicting her as purely calculating.