Director: Dave Franco
Writers: Dave Franco and Alison Brie
Stars: Alison Brie, Jay Ellis, Kiersey Clemons
Synopsis: On a trip to her hometown, workaholic Ally reminisces with her ex Sean and starts to question everything about the person she’s become. Things only get more confusing when she meets Cassidy, who reminds her of the person she used to be.
Dave Franco’s latest directorial effort, Somebody I Used to Know, has moments of deep affection and earnestness. They come from conversations with its main protagonist, Ally (Alison Brie) and her ex-boyfriend Sean (Jay Ellis), with whom she rekindles a relationship ten years after they break up. Those moments are the film’s best facet, showcasing huge amounts of heart by both leads with incredible chemistry.
It’s become a rare instance in modern romantic comedies when the leads have palpable chemistry. Recently, Your Place or Mine came out, starring two great actors who had absolutely no chemistry together. That has become a common trait in most algorithmic-driven romantic comedies, but it seems as though Somebody I Used to Know wanted to at least correct that notion.
It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie falls so flat. When it focuses on Ally and Sean, it more than soars. Brie is at her best when matched with Ellis, or Kiersey Clemons, who plays Sean’s fiancé Cassidy. After Ally and Sean reconnect and almost have sex, Ally goes to Sean’s house to apologize for her behavior. However, Sean’s mother, Jojo (Olga Merediz) sees Ally and forces her to join the family for dinner. She doesn’t know that the family is reuniting to celebrate Sean and Cassidy’s union, and they’re getting married in two days.
At first, she wants to sabotage the wedding and make Sean have second thoughts about marrying Cassidy. But the more she gets to know the fiancé, the more she wants to convince her to not make the same mistakes she did and follow her dreams before it’s too late, because Cassidy reminds her of “Somebody I used to know” (get it?). Now that’s a brilliant way to subvert traditional romantic comedy tropes, and Franco and Brie’s script goes at great lengths to give the opposite of what audiences expect, but it still doesn’t work.
Aside from brief instances of passion between Brie/Clemons and Brie/Ellis, the rest of Brie’s performance teeters on the edge of embarrassing and cringeworthy. Too many times the movie goes from sweet and heartfelt to crass and unfunny. For example, beautiful shots of Ally’s hometown are immediately tarnished when she goes back to her mother’s (Julie Hagerty) house and sees her consistently having sex with Ally’s third grade teacher. It becomes a running gag — every time Ally goes back home, her mother is found having sex somewhere in the house. Or how about the bit where Ally’s cat defecates and vomits on an airplane passenger when there’s massive turbulence?
Worse yet, Haley Joel Osment plays Sean’s annoying and immature brother. As much as his performance is extremely self-referential, with his first line being “Somebody call Brendan Fraser ‘cause we got a blast from the past!” it’s filled with annoying one-liners, and a presence that tarnishes any attempt of goodwill at bringing some slapstick comedy into the proceedings. It doesn’t work, and is in a constant tug of war between trying to stay human and compassionate to wanting to make the audience laugh at all costs by having Brie and Clemons run naked on a golf course so a little kid could chase them and then ogle at Ally during dinner. That kind of humor permeates the entire runtime and makes the film a deeply unfunny and embarrassing experience for almost everyone involved.
And it’s a shame because most of the acting is great. Olga Merediz is an expected show-stealer in her limited, albeit emotional portrayal of Sean’s mother, and Clemons does have a few scenes in which she gets a chance to shine. The film boasts a terrific cast, but the material does not aid some of their performances in any way. I love Danny Pudi, but his character is an endless walking and talking conscience for Ally. How many times does he say, “What are you doing? What do you think is going to happen? You’re going to break somebody’s heart” or a variation of that line to Ally before he gets…punched in the testicles???
Yeah, that’s the general vibe Franco gives for his movie. Moments of heart and genuine emotion immediately hampered by humor involving sensitive bodily parts (or fluids). If you want to make a heartfelt rom-com, stuff like this needs to be on the cutting room floor and not included in the final product. It’s the primary reason Somebody I Used to Know doesn’t work, even if it contained several aspects I enjoyed. Franco needs to go back to the basics before attempting to subvert romantic comedy tropes with bad physical comedy.