Alison Brie in Somebody I Used to Know.
Photo: Scott Patrick Green/Amazon Content Services
On a trip to her hometown, workaholic TV producer Ally reminisces with her ex Sean and starts questioning everything about her life.
When I read the title of Somebody I Used to Know, I thought I knew what it would be. It seems simple enough, the concept of a Hallmark film where a big city girl returns home when her career falters and reconnects with her ex-boyfriend. However, this film subverted everything I thought it would be; even the title threw me for a loop. Somebody I Used to Know is not quite the warm and fuzzy romance you might expect, but it might give you more to think about during the month of love.
It tells the story of Ally (Alison Brie), a reality show producer that combines Survivor with Love Island with… baking. When Ally hears that her show has been cancelled, she returns home to the small town of Leavenworth in Washington. Because her work was her life, she has to rediscover herself outside of work. While in Leavenworth, she runs into her ex-boyfriend Sean (Jay Ellis). The two broke up because Ally went to Los Angeles to follow her dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker, and Sean didn’t want to leave home. After spending a magical day together where Sean tries to show her what to love about Leavenworth, Ally decides she wants to win Sean back. However, the next day when she goes to his house, she learns that he is getting married in three days to the young and cool Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons).
There was a point while watching the film when I said out loud, “Is this like My Best Friend’s Wedding?” And I was not the only one as after Ally decides to crash the wedding celebrations in an attempt to convince Sean that she is the better choice for him, Cassidy outrightly asks Ally if she is trying to do a My Best Friend’s Wedding. And this is where the film turns. As Ally attempts to learn more about Cassidy to sabotage her relationship (a tactic she learnt from reality television), she starts to pick up similarities to Cassidy and Ally’s younger self. This allows her to be the one person who can help Cassidy make the right decisions and not lose track of her desires.
The film was written by Alison Brie and her husband, Dave Franco (who also directed it), and it has a lot of thoughtfulness that many romantic comedies released recently do not have. The film has romance, and we see it in the flashbacks and moments between Ally and Sean and also between Sean and Cassidy, but the romance is more of the trigger in helping all three parties realise things about themselves and also to get peace in order move on with their lives. Similarly to My Best Friend’s Wedding, Somebody I Used to Know seems to straddle the line between the sweet coming home narrative (like Sweet Home Alabama) and the nefarious ‘maybe I’m the problem’ film (like Young Adult). But Ally’s failure to see her own faults is what makes the film feel a little insincere. Perhaps we might have warmed to the character if she allowed herself to become deliciously and unapologetically villainous like Charlize Theron’s character in Young Adult.
And that was the reason why I could not connect with Ally. Alison Brie has never shied away from playing unlikeable characters. While that is commendable, I didn’t feel like there was enough that endeared me to the character that I really cared about her journey or where she ended up. Perhaps if we got more flashbacks of what Ally was like before she became jaded by the Hollywood machine, we could understand what she is fighting for and who she is trying to go back to being. However, Brie always gives a solid performance, and you can tell that this film was a labour of love and that she was serious about saying something that can be read as both pessimistic and hopeful, but it came at the expense of connecting the character and the audience.
The rest of the cast is equally as strong with the material they are given. Jay Ellis, in particular, was a highlight for me. He took a character that might seem grating and annoying with a less skilled actor and gave him depth and charm, which made me believe why both Ally and Cassidy would fight for him. The way Ellis embraced the vulnerabilities of the character made it seem that he is unaware of the condescending and selfish ways, and it is something that he would actively try and change now that he knew about it. Kiersey Clemons was also magnetic in the role of Cassidy and brought sweetness to the character, which reminded me of Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding.
But is the film a romantic comedy? I struggle with this definition because it unfairly boxes Somebody I Used to Know into a genre it does not fully embody. There are definite comedic moments in the film (Haley Joel Osment provides most of the comedic relief as Sean’s immature younger brother), and there are definitely romantic moments in the film. However, it felt more like the story of Ally’s personal growth. Perhaps by trying too hard to box it into the romantic comedy sphere, we are putting too much expectation on the film and not allowing it to create its own form. The context of the film feels like one chapter (or episode) in Ally’s life rather than the whole book.
Somebody I Used to Know is unapologetic about telling a story that subverts what we think we know about the romantic comedy genre and does not fall into familiar tropes. However, that came at the expense of creating relatable characters and connecting with the audience. It also made the film feel less memorable, and although the first watch was compelling, I needed more to interest me to rewatch the film.
Cast: Alison Brie, Jay Ellis, Kiersey Clemons, Danny Pudi
Our rating: 3/5 Stars
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: