Like some sort of cosmic ordering service, romances and romantic comedies work to put together people who deserve to be together. But what happens if the people concerned don’t deserve to be together? That’s what Alison Brie and Dave Franco’s Somebody I Used to Know sets out to discover.
Married couple Brie and Franco co-wrote it, Franco directs and Brie stars, as the Hollywood burnout who heads back to the small town where she grew up after her TV show, Dessert Island (a baking meets dating reality thing), gets canned. There she bumps into the ex she bailed out on suddenly ten years before to go and make it big in Hollywood.
The ex, Sean (Jay Ellis), is tall, dark and handsome, good natured, fun and funny, and what with Ally (Brie) being bruised and available, surely the next thing is a hook-up, leading to a full-on rekindling of the old romance.
But what if Sean were about to tie the knot, and not with some undeserving clod – the cosmic ordering would soon sort that out – but with a bright, nice, sparky, ambitious young woman like Cassie (Kiersey Clemons)? What then?
The “should be together” of the romance/rom-com meets the stark fact that a) Ally is too entitled to deserve this guy, in spite of the fact that in a different world they might have been together. And b) if she gets him, she’ll be breaking Cassie’s heart.
Young Adult did something similar – bruised woman heads home – but in Young Adult Charlize Theron played a monster whose awfulness became the whole point of the movie. Here, Ally isn’t dreadful, just wrong.
Another, and better, reference point is My Best Friend’s Wedding – explicitly referenced at one point by the savvy screenply, by Cassie, who is quickly on to Ally’s game. The 1990s romcom is what Brie and Franco came of age watching, after all.
Somebody I Used to Know is the sort of film you watch from two points of view. On the plot level – what’s going to happen to Ally? Is she going to mount a full frontal attack on Sean? Is he going to take the bait? What about Cassie? And on the rom-com structure level, how are Brie and Franco going to engineer it so all the pieces go together the way they are meant to? Is Benny (Danny Pudi), Sean’s oldest friend, going to step up as romantic interest number two? Is Cassie going to be exposed as a bit of a bitch, or a gold-digger maybe? At one point, because Cassie’s parents are almost entirely absent, it looks like Brie and Franco might be floating the idea that maybe the future bride and groom are siblings… maybe?
In other words, we watch as Brie and Franco try to get themselves out of the hole they themselves have dug.
Alison Brie’s breasts almost get their own storyline. Pushed into tight t shirts, revealing dresses, explicitly referenced at one point in a moment that almost breaks the fourth wall. Eventually, there’s even an entirely gratuitous scene set at a naturist colony, where Ally conducts a TV interview in the buff. Brie was a nudist at college, her IMDb biography tells us.
Great cast. Ellis and Brie spark well together, while Clemons is just spiky enough to fuel the fantasy that maybe this really is an Ally and Sean 2gether 4ever arc we’re watching. Julie Hagerty (yes, the one from Airplane!) is Ally’s daffy, sex-hungry mother, Olga Merediz as Sean’s lovely mother. Plus Pudi, Brie’s friend and Community co-star, and surely an actor whose time has come. Perhaps best of all, though, is Haley Joel Osment, who plays Sean’s bumptious brother. He’s barely in it but everything he does is comedy gold. Isn’t it time for the kid from The Sixth Sense to have second act?
Somebody I Used to Know – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2023