Film Editor James Evenden finds Somebody I Used to Know a disappointing rom-com despite its moments of maturity and Alison Brie’s charming performance
Somebody I Used to Know is an attempt at a rom-com that knowingly spins genre tropes. The film does an interesting job of placing maturity above wish fulfilment. However, it falls prey to inconsistency throughout, from the writing to the performances and muddled messaging. Whilst a valiant effort from director Dave Franco, he does not manage to escape the sense that his unique comedic talents are wasted on a project like this, one that takes far too few risks with its narrative and settles for being just fine.
At every turn, the narrative begs to be subverted in some meaningful way, but Franco pulls his punches. Somebody I Used to Know follows Ally (Alison Brie), a workaholic who, as she returns home for a few days, runs into an old flame Sean (Jay Ellis). She soon learns that he is getting married, and she decides to tag along after Sean’s mother asks her to be the videographer, to win back Sean. The plot feels contrived, mainly due to just how cutesy everything feels. This is to be expected in a rom-com, yes, but the over-the-top montage of Ally and Sean first reconnecting feels like something from a cheap Christmas movie, setting the tone for what is to follow. There is a charm to be found, mostly from Alison Brie’s always-reliable screen presence, but for the most part, her performance is hindered by the lacking material.
This is not to say that Somebody I Used to Know is not a bad film. As mentioned, Alison Brie’s ability to turn a relatively unlikable character into someone you can root for is no small feat. Her amoral intentions are still explicit, but she manages to keep Ally’s character from becoming completely unlikeable. Brie’s ability to switch from insincerity to sincerity is fun to watch and keeps Ally interesting as a character despite her intentions. This is not found in the supporting cast, which the film does not use effectively. The reunion of Brie and her Community co-star Danny Pudi is a missed chance to utilise their tried-and-tested chemistry. Pundi’s character is used essentially as a sounding board for Ally’s decisions and only exists to say the same thing over and over again. He is a mediator, and Pundi’s skills as a comic actor could have really injected some life into Somebody I Used to Know.
When the film takes risks with its messaging, there is a surprising level of maturity to be found. There are genuine attempts to complicate Sean’s relationship with his fiancée Cassie (Kiersey Clemons). The film keeps the information about the relationship from Ally and the viewer, and the steady reveal does provide valuable interest and nuance that propels the story forward. Ally’s own quest to find out who she is, and her search to accept herself does feel underdeveloped, but its mere existence is an example of the film’s attempts to break the mould. They are valid messages that feel unexplored in the genre, but the inconsistency in the execution stops them from feeling fully earned.
This inconsistency is also found in the writing. A joint screenplay from Franco and Brie, the writing shifts at whiplash speed from raunchy sex-comedy to emotional relationship drama, without taking time to bridge the gap between these two opposites. The comedy is not prioritised but feels annoying when put in, boiling down to pop culture references and sex jokes. These tones are not juggled well enough. The dramatic moments, specifically between Ally and Sean, feel rich and baked in years of words left unsaid between the two, helped by their palpable chemistry. But, the film does not give their relationship enough time to feel as fully fleshed out as it could have, mainly because the writing is more focused on setting up awkward scenarios without lending them enough dramatic weight.
Everything I have criticised it for I only do because it had so much more potential. It should be praised for its infusion of texture to the central relationships that provides unsaid context to the character dynamics. The film should have trusted itself to stick with the risks it takes. A reliable Alison Brie keeps Somebody I Used to Know from turning into any other disposable rom-com, but in the end, she is not enough to keep it from disappointing, despite its compelling moments of maturity that provide brief glimpses of rom-com subversion.
Somebody I Used to Know is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
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