Ally (Alison Brie) is experiencing a quarter-life crisis. A big shot in Hollywood, her star-studded world is thrown into orbit when her mega-popular baking/reality show hybrid Dessert Island is canceled after three seasons. To cope with the blow, she returns to her old stomping grounds—the Bavarian-style small town of Leavenworth, Washington—to seek guidance from her doting mother (Julie Hagerty). Almost immediately after touching down in Leavenworth, Ally spots her high school sweetheart, Sean (Jay Ellis), at the local bar. The two quickly rekindle their old flame, leading Ally to wonder if she should just permanently abandon the big city life for pretzels and sauerkraut.
There is one problem, though: Sean is engaged to punk-rock badass Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), and the two are set to be married that very weekend. And, as wrong as she knows it is, Ally can’t ignore her feelings for her old beau. So, she decides to stay in town and see things through with the groom, and through that resolution sets up a naturally uproarious premise with boundless opportunity for hilarity and heartbreak alike.
In some ways, Somebody I Used to Know, co-written by Brie and her partner Dave Franco, who also directed the film, makes good on its fresh, daring setup. Much of this can be attributed to Brie, who steals the show as the only actor involved who really seems to understand its equally lighthearted and sardonic tone. Brie shoulders the entirety of Somebody I Used to Know’s humor by frequently adopting her staple high-pitched, self-deprecating cadence, through which she masterfully emphasizes the awkwardness of her character’s situation. All the while, she remains consistently charming through her patient expression and soft smile, injecting empathy into what could have easily read as a bitter, petty character on a mission to sabotage a happy relationship due to her own disillusionment with life.
Brie’s co-stars don’t quite manage to meet her on that compassionate, clumsy tightrope. Ellis plays opposite her a little too straight and, as a result, he comes across as one-note, making it difficult to see what exactly draws Ally so staunchly to him that she would try to stop a wedding for the chance to win him back. The script doesn’t exactly help reconcile the pair’s dire lack of chemistry, either, providing only the most meager insight into their past, and giving them very little to talk about, relegating their romantic night to a montage rather than a meaningful conversation.
Other characters land too far on the other side of the spectrum from Sean: Painfully desperate for laughs. The wonderful Haley Joel Osment, for example, is confined to a bizarre comic relief role whose only defining characteristic is that he makes strange noises and insists on doing John Cleese-style silly walks for no apparent reason. Hagerty is assigned a similarly hollow role, playing the mother whom Ally can’t seem to stop walking in on mid-coitus. At first, the audacious commitment to the horny mom trope is shocking enough to elicit a hearty laugh, but, as you might imagine, it quickly gets old.
But these characters aren’t the only ones who try too hard for a chuckle. The script is overstuffed with oddly specific, mostly unfunny bits that Brie and Franco refuse to let up on, including inside jokes between Ally and her high school pal Benny (Danny Pudi) that the audience couldn’t possibly understand, and one long-running, nonsensical gag concerning The Hurt Locker.
While Somebody I Used to Know’s strengths don’t quite lie in its humor, Brie’s performance, the magnificent story and well-played dramatic moments are (almost) enough to make up for the cringing that you’ll inevitably take part in throughout. What initially presents itself as a high-concept, how-did-I-get-in-this-situation rom-com eventually takes a couple unexpected yet welcomed turns to become a tale of self love and, I hate to say it, a girlboss (or many) winning. It’s not every day that you see a by-the-books rom-com squeezing in a semi-twist ending, and Franco does so in an admirably sneaky, cheeky, subtle way. Similarly, Somebody’s moments of genuine, heartfelt drama are bound to pull on your heartstrings. Scenes between Cassidy and Ally tend to be profound and honest, and are bound to leave you wanting more. If only Franco was more aware of where his film’s strengths lay, Somebody could have been a great film instead of just a good one.
Director: Dave Franco
Writers: Dave Franco, Alison Brie
Stars: Alison Brie, Jay Ellis, Kiersey Clemons, Julie Hagerty, Haley Joel Osment, Amy Sedaris, Danny Pudi
Release Date: February 10, 2023 (Amazon)
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.