I USED TO GO HERE is a Coming of Age Story for Adults

Kris Rey’s coming of age dramedy is a lovely showcase for Gillian Jacobs

Anchored by a great performance by Gillian Jacobs, I Used to Go Here is a slight, but effective drama about facing your limitations, be they literal or imagined. It’s about someone who runs into some bad news and finds a possible reprieve by indulging her nostalgia. But what happens when indulging your nostalgia means having to face some of your biggest insecurities? I Used to Go Here invokes and subverts the Don Draper pitch about going “back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.” It’s about going to some place expecting to be loved and finding that there’s nothing there for you anymore.

Jacobs plays Kate, a writer whose first novel has been released to lackluster sales and underwhelming reviews. She’s still getting her ex’s mail and her book tour has been canceled. She gets a lifeline in the form of her old professor, David (Jemaine Clement), inviting her to do a reading at her alma mater. Many stories about adults finding their way in life get stuck in the arrested development mode (here’s looking at you, Judd Apatow), but that’s not what I Used to Go Here is after. Kate is a functioning adult, but things aren’t working out the way she envisioned. It feels so true to real life, the disconnect between doing what you’re supposed to do but recognizing you’ve gone off track. Going back to the place where she had so much potential is as close to a do over as Kate can get.

The shine of nostalgia fades away quickly as Kate walks around her old stomping grounds, reminiscing about the things she did 15 years earlier. If you want to get blitzed, take a shot every time Kate says “I used to.” It won’t take long. The buildings, the halls, the rooms are familiar to Kate, but everything has changed. Her memories of the school and small town have been subsumed by everyone that has passed through since Kate left. It becomes clear to the audience, much earlier than it does for Kate, that her struggles are swelling to a reckoning that she may not be ready for. Writer-director Kris Rey builds up a quiet storm of foreboding and discomfort that is squirm inducing.

Kate hangs with old friends and makes some new friends, while slowly realizing that this isn’t where she needs to be. Over drinks with David, there are hints that David and Kate had something more than a teacher-student relationship. Whether or not anything ever materialized, it’s clear that they’ve both wondered “what if” over the years. David offers Kate a teaching job, which indulges Kate’s nostalgia and offers her a lifeline to grab onto, should she want. That she doesn’t accept the offer immediately shows that somewhere deep down, Kate knows, this isn’t where her story is supposed to end. This is her starting point and the bulk of the movie is about her coming to terms with that.

Rey’s script is subtle, but observant. She lays out the thematic breadcrumbs in a way that is easy to catch, without being on the nose. Kate makes friends with a group of college students, and Rey is smart to just include Kate in the college kid shenanigans they get into. We know it’s awkward watching Kate party with these kids or sneaking around in the middle of the night to spy on David, there’s no need for commentary. It’s like how sometimes a person has to bottom out before they can move forward. So Rey allows that to happen, and it feels honest. More importantly, she allows the characters to be authentic. This is Kate’s story, but it could just as easily be David’s, or one the students Kate befriends. They’re, we’re, all on a similar path, just at different points. It makes Kate’s realizations about her life more impactful when they finally arrive.

I Used to Go Here is a movie that acknowledges the difficulty of growing up into something you never thought you would be. It’s mature and insightful. And, for me at least, it’s comforting. The film offers a reminder that it’s okay to look backward, just a quick glance, as long as you’re still moving forward. Even if you aren’t moving in the direction you intended, the only way to get there is to keep trying, no matter what missteps happen along the way.

I Used To Go Here is now in select theaters and On Demand from Gravitas Ventures

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