That classic romantic comedy genre trope of big-city-girl-returns-to-small-home-town is one that, initially, writer/director Dave Franco and writer/star Alison Brie utilise to almost expected potential in Somebody I Used To Know, a more human dramedy than romcom romp that cements the notion that you can never truly go home again.
People and places change, and no matter how familiar, your “home” is likely to have moved on from you just as much as you have from it. In spite of this, Brie’s Ally is hopeful that visiting her hometown will be enough of a booster for her in the midst of a personal and professional crisis; her bizarre mash-up reality television series she’s a producer on – one that essentially combines the narratives of a dating show and a cooking show – has been cancelled after 3 seemingly successful seasons.
Returning home, and first learning that her mother (the always sunny Julie Hagerty) has an insatiable sexual appetite, Ally runs into Sean (Jay Ellis), “the one that got away” – as far as romcom archetypes would go – who near-immediately makes her forget all her woes as they reminisce after a decade apart. Of course Somebody I Used To Know being a genre piece – even as it pushes against tropes throughout – means this whirlwind reunion comes with a dramatic snag: Sean isn’t single. In fact, he’s about to get married to Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), a sexually free-flowing musician-in-the-making whose energy represents everything Ally used to be.
Adopting a plot strand that would make My Best Friend’s Wedding proud – this film even namedrops the evil Julia Roberts outing – Ally decides to stick around for the nuptials, (sometimes) quietly plotting her actions to stop Sean and Cassidy’s union and remind Sean what he’s been missing. There’s always a risk in highlighting such character flaws in romantic comedies and, similar to how Roberts’ malicious plan in her film wasn’t justified in Cameron Diaz’s bubbly character behaviour, Cassidy is never framed in such a way that means she deserves Ally’s scorn. Though initially Cassidy is a little icy and standoffish towards Ally, and rightfully so, Brie and Franco’s script wisely merges the two characters together, with Cassidy’s desire for independence – something that’s being unintentionally stifled by Sean – reminding Ally of why she left this town in the first place and that, maybe, her romantic haze for Sean has more to do with her change of scenery as opposed to him actually being the best person for her own growth.
As much as Somebody I used To Know treads familiar ground across its breezy 106 minutes, its ensemble consistently elevate the studied nature of the script, with Brie leading the charge with an expectedly energetic performance that speaks to the actress’s ease in making her characters feel lived-in. Given the questionable choices Ally makes it’s a testament to Brie that we are still very much on her side throughout, or, at the very least, still find her charismatic enough to forgive her actions. Ellis is suitable as Sean, though he isn’t given the flashiest material and because its his mentality that brought forth Ally’s own creativity, and now Cassidy’s, it’s practically expected that his character feel a little insufferable. Haley Joel Osment has a grand time as Sean’s film-obsessed brother, and Danny Pudi brings a sense of infectious energy throughout (no doubt attested to his and Brie’s own collaborative background), but it’s perhaps Clemons who emerges as the film’s most intriguing creation.
As Cassidy, she toes the line between being a jealous, protective bride-to-be – though she’s far too sophisticated to ever let such feelings break through – and being mature enough to accept Ally’s presence in her life, however disruptive it may be. Again furthering Franco’s confidence as a storyteller – between this and his horror homestay outing The Rental, he’s truly emerging as one of the industry’s more reliable, exciting filmmakers – it’s Brie and Clemons playing off each other that stands as Somebody I Used To Know‘s strongest connective relationship. There’s tension and respect in equal measure between them, and the film is honestly at its best when it lets the two of them run free together.
It’s that type of authenticity that ultimately keeps Somebody I Used To Know from succumbing to genre conventionality. As it walks on a path we expect it to, Franco and Brie are all too aware that a well-placed side step is all the film needs in order to overcome the predictive hurdle so many romantic comedies adhere to. That being said, it isn’t entirely reinventing the wheel, but it travels smoothly and enjoyably enough thanks to those being behind said wheel utilising precision along their navigation.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Somebody I Used To Know is now streaming on Prime Video.