‘Somebody I Used to Know’ Review: Alison Brie and Jay Ellis Shines in This Familiar but Subtle and Well-written Romantic Comedy
It’s a rom-com week with not one but four straight-to-streaming releases, including Prime Video’s ‘Somebody I Used to Know,’ Paramount +’s ‘At Midnight,’ Roku’s ‘Meet Me in Paris’ and Netflix’s ‘Your Place or Mine.’ Besides, Valentine’s Day is around the corner – five days away, to be exact – and the timing is just right.
Now, let’s talk about the former. ‘Somebody I Used to Know’ marks the return of writer-director Dave Franco after his acclaimed 2020 directorial debut in ‘The Rental’. Whereas his last one was a horror movie, he chose to explore the rom-com genre for his sophomore follow-up. The story goes like this: Ally (Alison Brie) is a workaholic L.A.-based TV producer who just learns her reality baking show, ‘Dessert Island,’ gets axed by the network due to less-than-enthusiastic responses. She’s been thinking of pitching a documentary – something that she really wanted to do all the while. But instead, she is told to take a break for the time being. And so, she returns to her hometown of Leavenworth to visit her mother (Julie Hagerty).
When she stops by a local bar, she doesn’t expect to encounter her ex-boyfriend Sean (Jay Ellis). It was an awkward moment at first, but it doesn’t take long before they started to get comfortable over a day of eating and drinking while reminiscing the good old days. They end up with a kiss, and by then, we would normally expect this is going to be a sweet reconciliation of love and relationship.
Except, it doesn’t turn out that way after Ally decides to show up at Sean’s house, and her appearance catches him by surprise. His mother (Olga Merediz), on the other hand, may have been surprised as well, but she is also happy to see Ally. As Ally initially wanted to confess that she wanted him back in her life, she doesn’t know Sean is getting married to his punk-rocker fiancée Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons).
Ally is not giving up just yet as she determines to try to win back Sean, even though their best friend Benny (Danny Pudi) thinks it’s not a good idea at all. And she has a reason to do so without crashing a wedding since Sean’s mom insists on wanting her to become the wedding videographer. Will Ally be able to get back together with Sean?
Dave Franco, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside his lead star and real-life wife Alison Brie, takes the typical rom-com tropes that instantly remind me of a certain 1990s hit starring Julia Roberts – ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding, that is — and gives it a more nuanced spin. In other words, ‘Somebody I Used to Know’ isn’t the kind of rom-com that relies heavily on the usual slapstick and melodrama.
Sure, there are a few guilty-pleasure and broad comedy moments involving Ally’s cat and her open-minded mother, but Franco doesn’t overdo it here. And speaking of ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’, there’s even a callback of Cameron Diaz’s embarrassing karaoke scene singing Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself’ in front of everyone. The only difference here is Alison Brie is being called to stand on the stage and improvises the lyrics of Third Eye Blind’s ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ in a cute and witty manner.
I like how he keeps things mostly grounded while striking a fine balance between romance, comedy, and drama without all the obligatory big moments usually seen in the standard Hollywood rom-coms. Even Ally and Sean feel like real people. Not the conventional archetypes or stock characters straight out of the assembly line. We learn that Ally loves to work around the clock, and the idea of taking some time off after a canceled show isn’t what she wants. Her subsequent return to her hometown and unexpectedly reconnected with her old flame may have been familiar.
But Franco isn’t interested in going down the well-trodden path because, just like in real life, nothing is set in stone, and anything can happen regardless of a good or bad outcome. This, in turn, makes Ally’s character arc feels more involving, and it helps that Alison Brie delivers a subtle performance that made me root for her journey. The same also goes for her co-star Jay Ellis, whose performance as the conflicted Sean deserves equal mention while the onscreen chemistry between him and Ally feels genuine.
The supporting cast is just as commendable, where Franco brings out the best in Kiersey Clemons as Sean’s soon-to-be-married fiancée Cassidy while Danny Pudi’s Benny serves as a nice moral compass for his best friends, Ally and Sean. Haley Joel Osment shows up in a small role in his delightful comic-relief turn as Sean’s brother, Jeremy. At the same time, the rest, namely Olga Merediz and Julie Hagerty, round up the cast with their respectively solid supports as Sean’s and Ally’s moms.