Dave Franco’s Somebody I Used To Know is a bold and nuanced romantic comedy that whilst entertaining, struggles to find a consistent tone.
From the get-go, I have to admit to being slightly biased towards Somebody I Used To Know. As a passionate diehard fan of Dan Harmon’s brilliant sitcom Community (2009-2014), simply seeing Alison Brie and Danny Pudi share a screen again was enough to get me off my seat, cheering at the top of my lungs. Unsurprisingly, as a result of this, the scenes between the two are easily my favourite part of the movie and are filled with genuine chemistry and charm, which you’d expect from two great comedic actors who have spent years working together. If the film was simply just them attending a wedding and getting up to wacky hijinks, I honestly would have enjoyed it more.
However, Somebody I Used To Know isn’t that. Instead, director Dave Franco has made a film that can’t seem to quite make up its mind about whether it wants to be a classic romantic comedy or a genuinely emotional drama. The story follows TV showrunner Ally (Alison Brie, Franco’s wife), hot off the cancellation of her latest series, as she travels back to her hometown and reconnects with her ex-boyfriend Sean (Jay Ellis). After what seemed like a magical night together, Ally is shocked to find out that Sean is engaged and due to be married that weekend to Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), who she quickly discovers is very similar to a younger version of herself.
As the film goes on, it can never quite seem to figure out how it feels about Ally. Brie is brilliant to watch, bringing a vibrant energy and goofiness to the character that helps her thrive as the protagonist of a rom-com, but as funny as this can be, it never lines up with her actions. Throughout the story, Ally is quite a reprehensible person, either trying to get an engaged man to sleep with her or nefariously trying to sabotage the wedding. Normally, this could be labelled as “typical rom-com hijinks” but Franco seems to want to tell a nuanced romantic story that takes itself seriously, and so if he wants to take some of the film’s plot and the characters’ problematic behaviour deadly seriously, how can he expect us to ignore and simply just laugh at Ally’s actions?
During the climax, there’s a moment where the film acknowledges Ally’s behaviour as bad, but then it’s brushed aside in favour of a happy ending that doesn’t feel deserved. Franco seems to want the best of both worlds, with the film being half rom-com and half romantic drama, but he doesn’t handle the balance well and instead, we get constant tonal whiplash. As good as she is, Kiersey Clemons feels like she’s in a totally different film to everyone else, playing Cassidy, a genuinely complex queer punk rock singer, completely seriously. By the time we reach the third act, Franco has given up on even pretending to be interested in making a rom-com, and the script drops the idea of telling a joke, instead focusing entirely on the drama and conflict.
When the film is actively trying to tell a nuanced story, it actually works really well. The idea it brings up of how people are expected to drop everything for their partner is an interesting one, and in a genre where almost every other film is about a workaholic learning to realise that they need to spend more time with their family and put their career to one side, it’s genuinely fascinating to see a film that says the exact opposite of that. Franco argues that it’s fine for someone to focus on their career, and not have to sacrifice their life in order to suit someone else’s needs. The character of Sean could have easily been portrayed as a one-dimensional villain, hellbent on ruining Cassidy’s career, but instead he’s given actual reason for his behaviour, and by the end of the film realises what he did wrong.
On top of that, the film’s biggest strength is easily just how entertaining it is. Although it’s typically more charming than laugh-out-loud funny, the cast it employs are all naturally charismatic and simply fun to watch. The particular stand-outs in the supporting cast for me were Haley Joel Osment and Danny Pudi. Osment plays the main comedic relief in the film and delivers every line with such child-like giddiness that you can’t help but smile every time he’s on screen.
Pudi is given a lot more to do, serving as Ally’s best friend and confidant despite not having seen her in years, but he manages to give his character such a genuine sense of compassion that you completely get why she immediately trusts him again. It’s obvious from their time working on Community that Brie and Pudi have developed a genuine chemistry with each other, as the two’s scenes were not only the most entertaining, but also felt the most natural and honest, with the charm oozing off of the screen.
If you’re looking for a solid, entertaining romantic comedy, you could do a lot worse than Somebody I Used To Know. Whilst its plot may not entirely hold up to closer examination, on a thematic level it’s really interesting, and Franco and Brie generally manage to succeed in their quest to tell a complex story in the rom-com genre. The cast is brilliant, the comedy generally lands, and also, I got to see Brie and Pudi together again, so I’m more than fulfilled.
Somebody I Used To Know is now streaming on Prime Video.