SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW Looks for Love in a Hopeless Place

Director Dave Franco teams up with wife Alison Brie to put their spin on the romantic comedy, with mixed results.

Dave Franco’s Somebody I Used to Know is a curious post-modern romantic comedy. It has the blueprint of a classic romcom: A woman comes back to her hometown and has a run in with an ex that makes her realize she wants him back—except this is the weekend he’s getting married, can you believe it? The film has a love triangle, wacky supporting characters, and a slew of cringe-inducing sex jokes. But there’s something noxious at the movie’s core which makes its meanest moments its best and the romantic and comedic parts its worst. It leaves the movie feeling like it’s at odds with itself and never as compelling as it threatens to become.

Alison Brie plays Ally, a documentarian whose filmmaking aspirations led her to Los Angeles and eventually to a career as a reality TV producer. With her show teetering on the edge of cancellation, a quick trip back to her hometown quickly leads to a run-in with Sean (Jay Ellis), the guy she broke up with to move to L.A. in the first place. There’s still a spark between the two, so it’s a shame Ally’s trip home coincides with Sean’s wedding to Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons). From there, the plot goes through the usual will-they-won’t-they machinations.

The script, co-written by wife and husband team Brie and Franco, courts awkwardness in scene after scene like it’s trying to keep the audience from ever embracing these characters. They take advantage of the film’s R-rating for some spicy jokes about old people having sex, dick pics, and other such matters. But the jokes aren’t funny to begin with, so pushing the boundaries of taste just results in louder crickets. Ally isn’t particularly interesting, and her character is made worse by her steadfast determination to wreck Sean and Cassidy’s relationship. Her selfishness tips over into outright villainy at points during the lead up to the film’s climax. For as likable as Brie is as a performer, she can’t salvage Ally. I’m hardly a scholar on the romcom genre, but when you end up rooting for the protagonist’s failure, that can’t be a good sign.

The filmmakers want viewers to know they’ve seen plenty of romantic comedies, and their characters namecheck films throughout to help drive the point home. But Somebody I Used to Know lacks the special sauce that makes the good romcoms pop. The film’s lack of romantic moments feels more like a shortcoming of the script than the clever subversion it’s aiming for. Franco’s direction feels flat, lingering on moments long enough to land one more limp joke to close out scenes. His first film as director, the Airbnb nightmare The Rental, proved he can handle genre tropes and make them work in his favor, but Somebody I Used to Know finds Franco on wobbly ground. He knows the tropes and clichés, but not how avoid them.

Somebody I Used to Know is now available on Amazon Prime.

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