THE STORY – On a trip to her hometown, workaholic TV producer Ally reminisces with her ex Sean and starts questioning everything about her life. Things only become more confusing when she learns Sean is getting married to Cassidy, who reminds her of the person she used to be.
THE CAST – Alison Brie, Jay Ellis, Kiersey Clemons, Danny Pudi, Olga Merediz, Haley Joel Osment & Julie Hagerty
THE TEAM – Dave Franco (Director/Writer) & Alison Brie (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 106 Minutes
“Somebody I Used to Know” is only the second film that Dave Franco has directed – after 2020’s horror-mystery “The Rental” – and it, like his directorial debut, features his wife, actress Alison Brie, in the lead role, while he focuses on being behind the camera. Franco and Brie wrote the script together, and the title could easily make one thing of the popular song “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye. However, in this instance, the movie’s title refers to the fact that the main character sees herself as another character. The film is a relatively enjoyable, sometimes funny Amazon Prime Original that is a good palate cleanser in-between heavier film viewing.
Brie plays Ally, who has been the showrunner of a successful food competition show, “Dessert Island,” for three years, yet her life is upended when the show is suddenly canceled. With her career unexpectedly on hold, she’s at a loss as to what to do next and decides – on a whim – to bring her cat with her to visit her mom in the small island town of Leavenworth, WA. As can be expected, a series of awkward situations transpire, most notably when Ally returns home and finds her mother (Julie Haggerty) in a compromising position. She ends up reconnecting with her ex-boyfriend, Sean (Jay Ellis); things get even more complicated when Ally meets the free-spirited Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), who reminds Ally of herself when she was younger. Shenanigans and continuously awkward moments ensue as a wedding approaches, and Ally struggles to determine her place in all of this.
As can be expected, cringe moments are a-plenty throughout Franco and Brie’s script, which is also not afraid to provide us with some surprisingly raunchy and explicit moments. Also, there are plenty of pop culture references and celebrity shoutouts, namely from Jeremy (Haley Joel Osment), Sean’s brother. For the most part, the dialogue is fairly sharp, clever, and specific to each character; in particular, the line “do not chase the naked lady,” courtesy of Osment, is one of the best. And, what do you know? Someone actually says the title of the movie in a line of dialogue, yet it doesn’t feel forced. The film’s first act is fast-paced and then slows down – perhaps deliberately- to mirror Ally’s lifestyle change. The film is under two hours, yet it probably would’ve been even better at crisp 90 minutes, as some conversations between characters go on a bit too long. Also, much of what transpires in the narrative is hardly revelatory. We’ve all seen this type of romantic comedy before, of exes reconnecting, a love triangle, and other similar genre tropes. And, sure, the main twist is incredibly easy to predict, and the story you can almost predict beat for beat. We know how the whole “one that got away” story goes, and “Somebody I Used to Know” clearly took inspiration from previous rom-coms like “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”
The script is hardly subtle with its themes of doing what you want to do instead of letting others dictate your path. It’s about embracing who you are at this moment in time and living in the moment, as Clemons’ Cassidy is wont to do. Also, we know that certain characters will continue to make bad decisions, which can be frustrating, and the fact that Ally is essentially suffering from an identity crisis is hackneyed – and yet, this makes her more relatable, despite her better-than-average looks and natural charm. As with any rom-com, there are a few dramatic moments, most of which actually work quite nicely, even if the emotions seem more heightened than they should be. The actors’ commitment to those performances certainly helps. And, the third act of the film may go in a different direction than you may have been thinking; while it’s not necessarily a bold choice, it’s unique enough to make it stand out.
Brie is extraordinarily gifted at displaying so much emotion with only her eyes, although she also has plenty of showier moments throughout the film. She tends to excel at playing quirky, unique characters, and Ally is no exception; while she often seems put together, especially when interviewing subjects, she has the habit of talking to herself and of making up songs on the spot – the latter which gives Brie a chance to sing a bit and just to let loose. As always, her comedic timing is on point. Ellis is solid, although few of the scenes are viewed from his perspective; if this was meant to be primarily Ally’s story, it should have been told solely from her perspective. Sean’s blended family features a couple of scene-stealing performances, namely from Osment and from Olga Merediz as Sean’s adoptive mother. Osment goes all in with his performance of a wild, kid-at-heart father of two who spouts pop culture references seemingly non-stop. Merediz is a perfectly loveable, doting mother who cares so deeply for everyone in her expanded circle. There’s also Brie’s former “Community” co-star, Danny Pudi, as Sean’s best friend (who is also close with Ally), and he has some delightful moments with both Ellis and Brie. For her part, Clemons perfectly embodies Cassidy’s carefree nature, a queer character who is given more depth than might have been expected. There are plenty of cameos, including character actors who you might wish were in it much more; this includes Sam Richardson and Amy Sedaris, who are each only in one scene.
Overall, “Somebody I Used to Know” is pretty good, even if it’s not quite a game-changer in the romantic-comedy genre. Thanks to some strong performances – notably from Brie and Clemons – and solid writing, Franco’s sophomore directorial effort is mostly a success. It’s the kind of light, streaming-only fare that is enjoyable and easy to watch, yet you hopefully won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time.