It's only February, but 2023 has already been a terrible year for romantic comedies. Shotgun Wedding, At Midnight, and Maybe I Do all rely on tired clichés, stereotypical characters, and lame jokes. For that reason, it's beyond refreshing to see a smart rom-com like Somebody I Used to Know - a movie about people who feel real, in situations that seem (mostly) credible. Director Dave Franco is two-for-two, following up his tense thriller The Rental with this funny tale about how you have to love yourself before you can properly love another.
Ally (Alison Brie, who co-wrote the script with Franco) is the showrunner on a trashy reality TV program. It's about to be canceled, so she returns to her hometown to visit her mother (Julie Hagerty) and sort out a few feelings. Not long after arriving, she runs into Sean (Jay Ellis), the boyfriend she left a decade ago to pursue a career in documentary filmmaking. A spark clearly still exists between them, as they spend a night drinking, running around town, and laughing themselves silly. We can tell that, whether she was being honest with herself or not, coming back was as much an excuse to find him as anything.
Sean, however, is engaged to Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), a bisexual punk musician who's about to break up her band in order to be with him. Ally suspects, or maybe hopes, that Sean is nervous about getting hitched after a six-month relationship. In classic My Best Friend's Wedding style, she makes passive-aggressive efforts – some intentional, some subconscious - to split them up. A major opportunity to do that arrives when Sean's mother asks her to be the wedding videographer, since she's got TV experience. Old pal Benny (Danny Pudi) sees what's going on and tries to talk sense into her.
That concept may sound a little contrived. The way Somebody I Used to Know handles it, however, isn't. The title refers not to Sean but to Ally herself. Coming home and seeing her ex with a confident, ambitious young woman makes her realize that she left the relationship to pursue a goal she ultimately hasn't obtained yet. That, in turn, brings up questions of whether she made the right choice and what would have happened had she stayed local to be with Sean. The movie is not so much about which woman will end up with the guy as it is about whether Ally will accept that she'll need to find happiness within herself before she can find it elsewhere.
Somebody I Used to Know accomplishes this by putting her in a variety of funny situations (including a cringy impromptu rap in a bar) and surrounding her with characters who impact or enlighten her in various ways. Many of the best scenes are between Ally and Cassidy, both of whom recognize a rivalry that neither of them can quite openly acknowledge because, frankly, they like each other a little too much. Alison Brie really brings this woman's dilemma to life, and she's ably backed by a strong supporting cast whose members accentuate the humor without sacrificing the meaning.
The film contains a couple of very broad gags that, while hilarious, are perhaps a bit out of sync with the tone of everything else, as well as a fight regarding Cassidy's parents that could have been resolved with a simple conversation, yet is dragged out to help propel the finale. Any small gripes aside, Somebody I Used to Know is an entertaining romantic comedy that fulfills both halves of that equation nicely.
out of four
Somebody I Used to Know is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.