Film Review – Somebody I Used to Know
Somebody I Used to Know
After tackling the horror genre with The Rental (2020), actor-turned-director Dave Franco has put his sights on the romantic comedy with Somebody I Used to Know (2023). Teaming up with co-writer/star Alison Brie, Franco weaves a familiar tale of romance, love triangles, and all the messiness that comes with it. Fans of the genre will see a familiar structure – the ebb and flow of the story does not deviate too far from what has worked in the past. However, Franco and Brie add their own twist to the material. This is not only about the hijinks of a rom com – it is also a story about self-worth and personal identity. While not all the elements work cohesively, the ambition to explore those areas is notable.
Tell me if this sounds familiar. Ally (Brie), is a workaholic who has placed her career above her family, friendships, and love life. Her job consists of producing trashy reality TV game shows. After her latest gig goes south, Ally decides to visit her mother (Julie Hagerty), in the quaint little town of Leavenworth, WA. Leavenworth is one of those places where Christmas seems to be happening all year – the buildings themselves look like gingerbread houses. During her visit, Ally runs into Sean (Jay Ellis), a former boyfriend she left to pursue her career in film/TV. Right away, we sense that the love between Ally and Sean have not dissipated. In fact, their reunion is so sweet and lovely that it could very well be an impromptu date. Things get complicated with Ally learns that Sean is engaged to punk rocker Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), whom he just so happens to be marrying in a few days. Realizing that her chance to rekindle her romance with Sean is slipping away, Ally decides to crash the festivities in hopes of winning him back.
Yes, this is a beat for beat retelling of My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997). The two stories are so closely mirrored that at certain points I started seeing the parallels between character types. But where the Julia Roberts starring vehicle played more as a straight comedy, Franco and Brie take a different path. They attempt to subvert the tropes of the genre by examining the dreams and goals of the individual characters. Ally is torn between pursuing a career in documentary filmmaking and the connection she still has with Sean. Cassidy feels the pull between touring as a musician and settling down to a life of domesticity. As for Sean, he is stuck in the middle, between the woman he is about to marry and the woman who got away. Abandoned by his birth parents, Sean has a different view of what married life should be, and that perspective clashes with both Ally and Cassidy.
In the moment, this love triangle appears tangible and real, with Brie, Ellis, and Clemons delivering strong performances. Once the movie is over and we examine it as a whole, the crisscrossing dynamics don’t make a lot of sense. Ally is a hardworking, career-oriented person. One afternoon with her ex would lead to her ingratiating herself into his wedding seems out of character. Several times, characters ask her why she is even there, to which she can’t provide an answer. The relationship between Sean and Cassidy is even more of a headscratcher. In her personality, music, and overall demeanor, Cassidy appears to be a free and independent spirit. The fact that we are supposed to believe that she would fall head over heels in love with Sean, who is (no offense) a bit of a square, doesn’t ring true. The narrative tries to work around this issue by explaining that their engagement was rushed, but that feels more like a shortcut.
I have lived in Washington State for most of my life and have been to Leavenworth several times. It’s a beautiful town that attracts tourists year-round. You can swim in nearby lakes and rivers during the summer or go skiing in the winter. It has such an identifiable aesthetic that I’m surprised it hasn’t been featured in more movies. With that said, the production missed an opportunity to highlight the surroundings. Colors have a drab and stale tone. In a movie that hinges on high emotions, Franco’s naturalistic, down to earth approach neither heightens the dramatic tension nor amplifies all the love, anger, and jealousy flying about. The style worked better in The Rental in stressing the underlying terror and dread. Here, where love causes people to make irrational choices, the visual textures work in contrast to the story.
How does one love another if they cannot love themselves? That is the running theme. How that idea plays out is uneven, especially in the latter half. Franco (and to a larger degree, Brie), takes a big swing when it comes to characters embracing themselves, to the point of being overtly obvious. While the attempt is admirable, the execution is imbalanced. Subtlety is nowhere to be found – characters plainly speak their every thought and feeling to make sure the point gets across. The notion of “opening up” and “being your own person” has such importance that we question if this is an “anti” rom com. So much effort is put into characters living for themselves that we wonder why any of them would want to be with anyone else to begin with.
Somebody I Used to Know avoids the trap of being a Hallmark Movie by inserting a level of melancholy and thoughtfulness. But it’s those very elements that dampens the emotion. Franco, Brie, and the rest of the production go too far in the other direction, taking what could’ve been a smart and memorable romantic story and turning it into a good but forgettable one.