Although “Somebody I Used To Know” takes some of its cues from “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Young Adult,” director Dave Franco’s feature blessedly doesn’t overly rely on its cinematic predecessors. He and co-writer Alison Brie deliver the goods in their own hilarious, heartrending story about an emotionally stunted woman who returns home and attempts to wreck her former beau’s current relationship. The romantic comedy genre’s broad, patented hijinks and hilarity are indeed on display, but cleverly cloaked by a beautifully-realized portrait of delicately faceted characters and their relatable conundrums.
TV producer Ally (Brie) is having a tough go at life. The dessert-themed reality show she poured all her time and talent into has been cancelled after three seasons, and she’s creatively blocked trying to come up with a hot new idea to sell. Her love life’s a mess and she has no friendships beyond her orange tabby cat. It’s clear she needs some time off to recharge and become inspired again. So when her mom Libby (Julie Hagerty) invites her to visit, Ally spontaneously jumps on a plane to her hometown of Leavenworth, Wash.
Yet after a nightmarish flight, awkwardly walking in on her mom having sex and being recognized by an obnoxious classmate in the local bar, Ally doubts she made the right decision to return. Enter Sean (Jay Ellis), the handsome, charming ex-boyfriend she ditched a decade ago to pursue her filmmaking career. He stayed in town to work, be near his family and build his dream home. The pair spend the entire night drinking, dancing and talking, leading to a tender smooch that reignites their flame — or so Ally thinks.
The next day she unwittingly discovers Sean is due to marry Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), a sweet, confident rock singer, in a few days’ time. Sensing she might have a chance to fracture the couple’s impending union if she accepts a job as their wedding videographer, she sticks around to meddle. Shenanigans ensue that lead the trio to a crossroads.
The picture does its best to never portray Ally’s destructive actions as entirely monstrous in order to retain rootability. Costume designer Amanda Needham frequently clothes the character in inconspicuous colors like white, gray, blue and teal to stoke audience empathy. But after Cassidy tries to humiliate Ally publicly on stage (a spin on the aforementioned Julia Roberts film’s karaoke bar sequence), Ally starts wearing slinkier, more saturated color dresses, hoping to upstage the bride-to-be.
The film gets interesting when it dawns on Ally that she can gain more by helping Cassidy solve her dilemma of whether to quit her career for Sean — the same decision Ally had previously faced. This choice to develop these characters in an innovative way propels the plot forward in a fascinating direction while providing stronger motivations and psychological stakes. There’s now more on the line for all three pivotal protagonists.
Franco keeps the tone low-key and grounded by combining broader comedic strokes with the narrative’s honest underpinnings. Brie gives a well-calibrated performance filled with vulnerability and vigor. She nimbly negotiates the material’s shifting comedic and melodramatic notes, making Ally’s infrequent mean actions feel realistic and her redemptive arc ring true. Ellis smolders on-screen, delivering his best work yet. He infuses his character with warmth, charm and a rich internality that masterfully surfaces by the end of the film. Clemons is a dynamic knock-out, transforming Ally’s adversary into a radiant woman. Danny Pudi, who plays Ally’s former bestie, Benny, and Haley Joel Osment, who plays Sean’s silly sibling, Jeremy, also give compelling supporting turns.
It’s a refreshing notion that the filmmakers sought to redeem their heroine, rather than allow her to remain unchanged, as it leads to a more satisfying conclusion. Although the feature does belabor a few of its jokes (specifically anything involving Ally’s ridiculous reality show), it nails its resonant sentiments about regaining creativity and it never being too late in life for a second act.