Review – The Girl from Plainville (Episodes 1-3)

Inspired by the chilling true story that led to an unprecedented court trial, The Girl from Plainville is a dramatization of Michelle Carter (played by Elle Fanning, The Great) and the events that preceded and followed the tragic death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III (Colton Ryan). The limited series is based on an Esquire article that was published by Jesse Barron, with creator and showrunner Liz Hannah (The Dropout, Mindhunter) adapting the story for television.

It was labelled a modern-day Romeo and Juliet when teenagers Michelle Carter (Fanning) and Conrad Roy III (Ryan) met in 2012. A small holiday with their respective families in Florida soon led their paths to cross, and although they lived over an hour away from each other, the star-crossed lovers decided they would maintain a ‘relationship’ in they way many teenagers do, through constant communication via texting and social media. Over the course of two years, and unknowingly to his family, Conrad suffered severe social anxiety and depression. In fact, it was seemingly a big part of his life that he would only divulge to Michelle.

Then, on July 13, 2014, Conrad was found dead in his Ford pickup truck, with a petrol-powered motor in the back seat. Declared a by the police as a suicide, devastation tears through Conrad’s family, as his mother, Lynn (Chloe Sevigny), and father, Conrad Roy II (Norbert Leo Butz) struggle to understand how why their boy, who was achieving many things at that point in his life, would suddenly decide to end it all. After having minimal communication with Michelle up until Conrad’s death, Lynn begins to receive numerous texts of condolences and support from Michelle herself, sparking an off-putting curiosity, about this mysterious girlfriend, in Lynn’s mind.

Days after Conrad’s death, Lynn discovers a journal with a note left behind with passwords to his phone and laptop. After handing this information over to the police, who have Conrad’s phone in their possession, leads a Massachusetts detective and District Attorney down an unexpected rabbit hole of text messages from Michelle to Conrad, encouraging him to commit suicide. Unable to charge Michelle with murder, a charge of involuntary manslaughter is put forward, leading to a legal battle about whether Michelle’s acts criminally caused Conrad’s death, but sees the morality of Michelle’s actions drag her violently through the court of public opinion.

Exploring the nature of Michelle and Conrad’s relationship before his death, examines the intricacies and intimate details of who Michelle was and what led her to perform such a cruel act. Fanning’s portrayal of Michelle in high school brilliantly shows a socially awkward, often overbearing outcast who craves attention and sympathy from her peers, but rarely receives it due to her desperation. Often texting her friends about how lonely she is, turns people away from her. It is in those moments where Michelle turns to her vices, one being pop-culture, specifically the TV show Glee and her favourite character, Rachel Berry.

Fanning’s disarming performance and nuances as Michelle amplify the intrigue and tension within the show. A moment in her life will instil feelings of empathy towards Michelle as she struggles with acceptance. Then, within an instant, her incessant need for approval, no matter who she hurts to obtain it, shines through, and begins to start a snowball effect of signs pointing towards her cruel nature. Fanning’s physical transformation is immersive on screen, but it is the subtlety in mannerisms and the ability to instantly switch tones and emotions that allows Fanning’s performance to be the most engaging factor of the show. The closing scene of episode one is a truly haunting example of how great Fanning is in the role, and how emotionally disturbed Michelle is as a person.

The Girl from Plainville story runs through two different periods of events. The structure of the story is a fascinating and completely immersive way to unfold the plot, often having revelations in the case and trial acting as doorways to the foundational scenes of understanding Michelle and Conrad, their relationship, and their struggle with mental health issues. The narrative doesn’t feel convoluted and, in the opening three episodes (which haven’t reached any scenes of the trail yet), don’t feel like the drag pacing wise as their full of necessary information, but all around exciting technical aspects and acting.

Primarily, the feeling that this show will emit from audiences is rage, as it does not hold back from the horrendous things Michelle did, both before and after Conrad’s death. However, Liz Hannah and her writing team have intricately weaved enough interesting breakdowns of many themes that The Girl from Plainville never feels emotionally exhausting, even with its dark subject matter. Most importantly, considering this limited series comes following a 2019 documentary about the trial, this feels like a solid TV show. One that is engaging, tense and intriguing, but never disrespectful to the fact that it is based on tragic event. It’s a show that can be enjoyed and will hopefully lead interested parties into finding out more about the real life case on their own volition.

Led by a fantastic performance from Elle Fanning, The Girl from Plainville is a careful, yet always engaging, examination of how someone could commit such a heinous crime. It’s well structured dual-timeline narrative creates a solid level of intrigue that will undoubtedly have people returning week-to-week to see how this story unfolds. The Girl from Plainville is streaming exclusively on Stan from March 30.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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