A film review by Craig J. Koban November 21, 2020

I USED TO GO HERE jjj

2020, R, 87 mins.

Gillian Jacobs as Kate Conklin  /  Jemaine Clement as David Kirkpatrick  /  Jorma Taccone as Bradley Cooper  /  Kate Micucci as Rachel  /  Hannah Marks as April  /  Josh Wiggins as Hugo  /  Brandon Daley as Tall Brandon

Written and directed by Kris Rey

I USED TO GO HERE is absolutely proof positive that a film with am extremely well worn premise (returning home to rediscover your roots) can be bolstered by the charming presence of its lead performer.  

This indie comedy's ace up its sleeve is Gillian Jacobs, who's probably more familiar to most for her small screen work on shows like NBC's COMMUNITY and HBO's GIRLS, and here she plays a struggling author who makes a journey back to here alma mater and soon realizes that all of her past educational and career aspirations have hopelessly not come true.  Writer/director Kris Rey plays with a considerable number of familiar genre conventions, some of which are subverted, but just as many others are adhered to, but I USED TO GO HERE feels more intimately rendered and authentic in its character beats and individual moments, even when it sometimes awkwardly veers between college frat house farce and heartfelt sentiment.  But with Jacobs' confident presence, though, such nagging issues start to fade into obscurity.

Jacobs plays Kate, who is in a state of euphoria in the open scenes of the film, cheerfully basking in the glow of her very first novel being released.  Cruel fate steps in immediately when a call from her publisher reveals that her upcoming book tour has been abruptly cancelled due to the book - the horrible sounding SEASONS PASSED - having less than promising sales.  Of course, her publishers obnoxiously and falsely lay on the charm, trying to instill in Kate that she just needs to keep plugging away at a career in literature.  This is horribly timed, especially seeing as Kate is also experiencing issues of loneliness and longing after her most recent relationship crashed and burned (she has naive hopes of being able to re-connect with her ex, but when she begins cyber stalking his Instagram feed it has become readily apparent that he's moved on with another woman).  Dejected and morally broken down due to multiple setbacks, Kate begins to fear for the worse moving forward.

Hope steps in with a phone call one day from one of her former professors in David Kilpatrick (Jemaine Clement) from the fictitious Illinois University in Carbondale, who seems to really love her book with a passion, so much so that he invites her back to campus after a 15 year absence to speak to his classmates about being a novelist.  With literally nothing else to do, a very enthusiastic Kate agrees and makes the pilgrimage back to her post secondary institution, and upon arriving the throwback kick to the senses is unmistakably potent for her.  Even after a very awkward meeting with the head of the B&B that she's staying at (an amusingly hostile Cindy Gold), Kate takes to re-acclimating to her old campus like a fish to water and drinks as much of it in as possible.  She decides to even make an impromptu visit to her old house, which has now become a home for a bunch of aspiring college students and writers.  Within no time, these group of spirited young adults take Kate in as one of their own, and slowly but surely she begins to live vicariously through their own trials and tribulations.  The kids - played by Josh Wiggins, Forrest Goodluck, Brandon Daley, and Khloe Janel - kind of sense that beneath Kate's outwardly bubbly facade lurks a woman of subjugated regrets and pain, so they try their best to make her one of their own.  Predictably, Kate begins to realize that her old prof in David might have had other things on his mind than promoting her failed novel.

 

 

Even though that (a) I'm not a woman and (b) I'm not a downtrodden novelist, I found myself oddly relating to Kate's story throughout I USED TO GO HERE, mostly for how the film accurately portrays all of the whirlwind of conflicting emotions that can come over thirty and fortysomething people when coming to the full realization that your hopes and dreams in college never fully materialized afterwards.  I certainly remember my thirties as a time of great uncertainty and remorse, coming in the form of a before-mid-life crisis.  I had many friends who settled down not only into careers, but into marriages that later spawned families, something that the bachelor in me looked on with selfish disappointment.  One of the more relatable themes in I USED TO GO HERE is the power (good and bad) of looking back and nostalgia, the latter of which can sometimes take an emotionally regressive toil on people that are already a bit beaten up by life.  One of the central mistakes that most individuals make when it comes to trying to recapture their youth and pasts is the whole notion of letting that all, well, stay in the past...and moving on.  These finer lessons are really driven home during many cringe worthy moments of embarrassment for poor Kate when one of David's most promising students in April (BANANA SPLIT's wonderful Hannah Marks) has a few sit down chats with her about her own writing aspirations.  It soon becomes clear that Kate is in a whole other qualitative league below this young and talented go-getter.

Kate also goes through other demoralizing discoveries while reacquainting with people from her past, like one with an old classmate (played by producer and Lonely Island member Jorma Taccone), who becomes hilariously unfiltered with her during a night out for drinks when he nonchalantly reveals that he used to masturbate while thinking about her (yikes).  To make matters worse, she begins to piece together David's true motives in a subplot that, to be frank, could be seen from a proverbial mile away (that, and Clement is so damn good at playing this character that's equal parts warm heartedly inviting and hideously slimy).  Kate's only solace from her problem plagued stay at home is with her new besties in the aforementioned college students, and even when the film takes a bit of a nose dive into quirky partying antics (which seems tonally disingenuous to what the makers are attempting here), I liked how Rey makes Kate and her new confidants seem like genuine people with real insecurities and worries.  And Jacobs sells Kate's headstrong willingness to try anything with her new cohorts and her emotional implosion with believable nuance.  She wisely never overplays Kate as a broadly delineated aging hipster wannabe, but rather as someone that has gone through the ringer and just wants to belong to someone or something again. 

It's thanklessly commendable that I USED TO GO HERE doesn't try to be a lewd and crude college comedy akin to OLD SCHOOL, but rather tries to be sincere and honest with the underlining material.  Having said that, Kate's whole character arc and her path to unavoidable self-actualization is painted with fairly preordained strokes (the film, if anything, unfolds with very few, if any, tangible surprises).  Beyond familiar genre beats and some contrived plot machinations, there were instances when I felt that Rey perhaps was soft pedaling her screenplay a bit too much for my tastes.  A lot of I USED TO GO HERE has a carefree spontaneity and whimsicality, but it never really felt altogether deep and contemplative, which is a bit of a creative missed opportunity if you ask me.  But as an effectively funny and sometimes touching hang out flick, Rey's film goes down very easily and she gets the most out of her well oiled ensemble cast.   I USED TO GO HERE is also a showcase for Jacobs' adept abilities at navigating the tricky waters between laughs and pathos and should, in turn, be a rallying cry for other filmmakers to put her in their films. 

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