Star-crossed Lovers and Things Like That -| Review Score – 4/5
Turtle -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Never Have I Ever -| Review Score – 3/5
Can’t Fight This Feeling -| Review Score – 4/5
Mirrorball -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Talking is Healing -| Review Score – 4/5
Teenage Dirtbag -| Review Score – 3/5
Blank Spaces -| Review Score – 4/5
The name of Michelle Carter swept across the nation during her trial for the unprecedented texting-suicide case regarding the death of 18-year-old Conrad “Coco” Roy III. The tragic story has seen its fair share of adaptations and documentaries. Hulu’s The Girl from Plainville, adapted from Jesse Baron’s Esquire article of the same name, is the very latest.
Elle Fanning stars in the Hulu original adaptation based on the true story of Michelle Carter’s relationship with Conrad Roy and his subsequent death. The 8-episode drama miniseries uses actual texts between the teenagers to piece together what may have happened between them, and why Michelle would have coerced her boyfriend into committing suicide.
Similarly to another recent true-crime adaptation from Hulu, The Dropout, The Girl from Plainville is more concerned with setting up the case against its subject than glamorizing her motivations. Michelle Carter’s story is anything but a romance. The Romeo and Juliet story in Michelle’s mind, in fact, does not play out as such on the screen at all.
Michelle is far from villainized, however. A jumbled storyline spanning from 2012 to 2017 works to largely shroud the young woman’s motivations. The Girl from Plainville holds its hand close to its chest, acting on the irresistible urge of crime fiction to obscure facts in favor of slower and nonlinear reveals. While the end result of the series is plain to anyone with knowledge of the real-life case, the rest of the story is laid out like scattered puzzle pieces.
The deliberate obfuscation contributes to the drama’s intentional portrayal of Michelle as at once manipulative and mentally unwell. The pieces of the puzzle have more than one solution, and they can perhaps both be true at once. One: a picture of lonely, depressed, anxiety-ridden Michelle. The other: a cold, calculated attention-seeker.
Elle Fanning is absolutely striking in one scene where she sings along to an episode of Glee. Channeling Rachel Berry after the passing of her boyfriend Finn, Michelle looks at herself intently in the mirror. Singing “Make You Feel My Love,” she forces herself to cry in an absolutely chilling imitation of the Glee character. The scene is a prime example of how The Girl from Plainville’s depiction of Michelle ties her unlikability into her mental illness. It makes her complicit in Conrad’s death but never totally devoid of sympathy. Ultimately, her motivations are up to the audience’s interpretations. The drama, then, walks the fine line between humanizing and glorifying the convicted criminal.
In a way, mental illness acts as the main culprit of the series–although not in a manner that erodes Michelle’s culpability, nor in one that blames Conrad’s death on his own anxieties. The show finds a purpose (other than in–let’s face it–the cash grab that typically motivates sensationalizing true-crime stories) in shining a light on the prevalence of mental health struggles in teenagers, as well as the struggle of parents who don’t know how to help in spite of desperately wanting to.
Depression, anxiety, and likely some other unknown factors are depicted as the driving cause of Conrad’s suicidal ideation and Michelle’s twisted involvement in his death. The narrative of The Girl from Plainville provides a wider scope than just a guilty-or-not-guilty plot line, and that approach saves its otherwise blandly straightforward story.
The question remains whether the limited series is an entirely necessary adaptation. While an engaging story with heart-stopping performances, it doesn’t quite have enough adaptable material to fill its eight episodes. And ultimately, no matter how well-executed its sensitive topics and storyline, The Girl from Plainville doesn’t offer much beyond the already-accessible information on the case. If anything, watch the series for its real and complex portrayal of mental health struggles–and Elle Fanning, of course.
Verdict - 7/10