‘Somebody I Used to Know’ Review: Reigniting Old Flames
In Dave Franco’s new comedy, Alison Brie plays a reality television showrunner attempting to break up her ex-boyfriend’s engagement.
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By Natalia Winkelman
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In the catalog of comedies about city strivers who decamp to their suburban hometowns to hassle former lovers, Dave Franco’s “Somebody I Used to Know” is an upbeat but minor entry, destined to recede behind the worthier stories from which it borrows. The unfortunate irony of the movie’s title — one word off from the Gotye earworm, presumably to preserve search engine optimization, if not originality — is that the film lacks the indelible details and authentic feeling necessary to encode it in long-term memory. Indeed, soon after finishing the movie, it already feels far away.
The story begins as Ally (Alison Brie), a reality television showrunner, craftily wrests a tearful disclosure from an interview subject on camera. It should be a triumphant moment, but the implication is that in her pursuit of Hollywood success, Ally has sold her soul and sacrificed her dignity. Not to worry: The chance for a reset arrives after the network declines to renew the show, and Ally, whose workaholism has left her friendless, makes the impromptu decision to visit her mother (a criminally underused Julie Hagerty) in Leavenworth, a small town situated in the mountains of Washington.
This cinematic overture is among the most successful sequences in the movie, and sets us up for a conventional but comforting journey back to more wholesome roots. It also teases a gleefully unlikable protagonist who’s more schemer than achiever and more sourpuss than socialite; Brie (who co-wrote the script with Franco) has a knack for tapping into her nasty side, and as we zigzag through a handful of set pieces that don’t quite register comedically — one hinges on cat diarrhea — we yearn for our city mouse to go fully feral.
Regrettably, the moment never arrives. While in Leavenworth, Ally bumps into her ex-boyfriend, Sean (Jay Ellis), and is aggrieved to learn of his recent engagement to Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), a self-possessed local punk singer. Ally spends the remainder of the film’s running time batting eyelashes and crashing wedding events as she conspires to reignite their old flame. It’s remarkable that nobody tells her to get lost and get a life; despite some side-eyeing, even Cassidy and her protective pals seem glad to have the grating Ally around.
As the movie’s co-writer and director, Franco brings a sunny disposition and a touch of idiosyncratic farce. There are the usual jaunty montage sequences and forlorn shots of characters gazing out windows, but there is also vomit, obscene texts and an overwhelming dose of public nudity. Franco and Brie are clearly riffing on a suite of movies about career women rediscovering roots and wreaking havoc on old relationships — “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Young Adult” come to mind — and seek to inject the familiar premise with millennial novelty.
But there’s something missing from the equation. Each of those predecessors appreciate that their heroines, in acting harshly toward their peers, also become their villains. By reeling in Ally’s ruthlessness, expunging her comeuppance and mollifying those she wrongs, “Somebody I Used to Know” actually distances us from Ally and her issues. The truth is that jealousy and cruelty are human; anything less is just a portrait with the blemishes erased.
Somebody I Used to Know
Rated R for full-frontal nudity. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. Watch on Amazon.
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