Somebody I Used to Know is Dave Franco’s sophomore directorial feature and first co-written by his real-life wife and star, Alison Brie. That behind-the-scenes familiarity has helped produce a solid film that subverts the romantic comedy tropes with an authentic and emotional story. That said, many of the hijinks that ensue will feel familiar, just as somebody you used to know feels familiar. Perhaps a little different, a bit more complex, but welcome and comforting nonetheless. The end result is a film that is enjoyable and forgivable for its faults.
Brie plays Ally, a reality television showrunner that manipulates contestants into revealing things they otherwise would not. Upon the cancellation of her show, Ally returns home to her mom (Julie Hagerty, a hoot) to figure out her life. She runs into her ex, Sean (Jay Ellis), and instantly begins rethinking her life’s choices. After discovering Sean is engaged, Ally worms her way back into Sean’s family (Danny Pudi and Haley Joel Osment) life. She then befriends his betrothed in an attempt to split the couple up. However, her friendship with Sean’s fiancé Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons) reminds Ally of herself. Soon she questions everything all over again.
Brie is an ever-engaging performer, possessing the ability to elicit tears and laughter within the same scene. Though Ally’s actions are deplorable, Brie grounds the character’s decisions in a realism that inspire empathy. The supporting cast tries to rise to Brie’s level, but apart from her Community co-star Pudi, most cannot walk the tightrope between comedy and drama. They often skew in one direction or the other. Ellis leans heavily into the drama and Osment fully embraces the comedy. Franco wisely plays to his cast’s strengths, never asking more of them than they can give. This keeps the performances genuine and lends to the film’s heart.
Though many beats are familiar, the script is not without its share of twists, particularly when it comes to the ending. This helps keep the film fresh though nearly anyone will be able to pluck out the inspiration for certain scenes (and most of that inspiration seems to be My Best Friend’s Wedding). Franco wisely keeps the runtime tight, not allowing beats to play out too long. The humor comes more from awkward encounters and moments than through verbal jokes, but nearly all the humor hit with authenticity. The audience laughs because they have been there.
The film’s greatest asset is its honesty. The characters are flawed but aware of their shortcomings. Nobody is the “bad guy,” but instead there is an understanding of the circumstances. Love can exist without being in love. People can change but not because of someone else. The screenplay is generous to allow each of the three leads to find that naturally. The twists allow for these discoveries to be realized organically.
Somebody I Used to Know is ultimately nothing new or groundbreaking but is nonetheless enjoyable. It is a solidly paced story with authentically flawed characters portrayed by a strong cast. The humor is funny, the emotion is sincere. Franco’s message is never too heavy-handed but may not be as clear as it could be. Viewing it is as warm and comforting as reconnecting with somebody you used to know.