A film review by Craig J. Koban February 24, 2023


2023, R, 106 mins.

Alison Brie as Ally  /  Jay Ellis as Sean  /  Kiersey Clemons as Cassidy  /  Danny Pudi as Benny  /  Haley Joel Osment as Jeremy  /  Amy Sedaris as Deedee  /  Julie Hagerty as Libby  /  Olga Merediz as Joanne 'JoJo'  /  Zoë Chao as Ramona  /  Evan Jonigkeit as Chef Jamie  /  Ayden Mayeri as Kayla  /  Kelvin Yu as Christian

Directed by Dave Franco  /  Written by Franco and Alison Brie




Actor turned director Dave Franco first cut his teeth behind the camera with the fairly well oiled 2020 thriller THE RENTAL, and now for his sophomore effort he's opted for something completely different with the romcom SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, which was co-written and stars his wife in Alison Brie.   

Whereas Franco's rookie picture was as a chillfest, his latest goes the more broad and farcical route in telling a tale of a career minded woman that has faced recent occupational hardships, so she returns home and re-discovers that her ex-boyfriend (that she still has feelings for) is engaged and about to be married, which leads her down a dicey self-imposed scheme to end this union and get her man back.  If this whole setup sounds awfully similar to the splendid 1997 Julia Roberts wedding crashing themed romcom MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING then you're not along.  Highly derivative storytelling aside, SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW sports - at the very least - a very game and willing to do anything (and I do mean anything) Brie leading the charge, and her presence and strong comedic performance make this film worth watching.  It's just too bad that Franco can't find a harmonious balance with the underlining material, not to mention that this film is just not as funny as it should have been. 

I did enjoy the introductory sections of the film, which introduces us to Brie's take-no-prisoners and ratings hungry showrunner Ally, who heads up a deliriously tawdry reality show called DESERT ISLAND, which is like SURVIVOR meets LOVE ISLAND...with baking ("It's just like making a documentary," the former doc producing wannabe Ally tells her friends at one point, "Except that people watch it!").  She has perfected a coldly stern technique with her interview subjects on the show of just staying silent and gazing at them, which usually allows for them to spill the beans, oftentimes in the worst and most trashy ways possible.  For years, Ally's show was a hit, but when she's confronted by two network executives (in brief, but funny turns by Sam Richardson and Zoe Choa, with the the latter being equally amusing in the recently released YOUR PLACE OR MINE) she's given the horrible news that DESERT ISLAND will be cancelled.  This predictably devastates her and leaves the now jobless showrunner desperately trying to figure out what to do with her life and newfound free time. 



Well, she journeys home, of course, to visit her shocking hedonistic mother (played well by Julie Hagerty) in Leavenworth, Washington, which also allows for her to return to some of her old favorite haunts and reconnect with places of her upbringing.  On one fateful night she gets reunited with Sean (Jay Ellis), the man that she was once close with, but ended up dumping him in order to leave town and pursue her producing dreams in the big city.  She's secretly still in love with this man, something that she hopes he'll reciprocate upon hooking back up.  They seem to be enjoying each other's company again despite the past, with Sean taking her around town to the old and new sights, which culminates in Ally trying to seduce her ex for the night, and after an awkward kiss he refuses and leaves.  Perplexed, Ally goes on the detective hunt offensive to figure out why Sean got so instantly dismissive with her post-smooch, but they she quickly discovers why: he's about to marry Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons) and - gasp! - that weekend.  Ally decides to befriend the entire wedding party and offers to document the whole event to commemorate it, but she secretly and selfishly uses that as a cover to enact a plan to break up Sean and Cassidy and steal him back for herself. 

If played by any other actress, I have no doubt that Ally would have come across as thoroughly despicable considering her actions, but Brie is such an endlessly charming and appealing screen presence that I found it hard to condemn her character while, at the same time, having some semblance of sympathy for her because of this weird social conundrum that has just come after her show getting the stressful axe.  That's not to say that Ally is a wholly likeable heroine in this story.  Far from it.  She's a manipulative schemer that seems to be going out of her way to destroy what appears to be a healthy relationship between her former lover and the new love of his life.  Brie plays this role with the right balance of emotional vulnerability and venomous edge, which is a tricky dichotomy, to be sure.   Beyond Ally's morally dicey plan, she commands some respect for being a woman who has had her career implode in on her in mere seconds.  Being a reality show producer has been her whole adult life, and now she's struggling to revaluate her own feelings of low worth and what to do next.  She chooses the absolutely wrong outlet to do this, mind you, but you gain an understanding of her fragile headspace throughout the story. 

Her overall scheme, though, is interestingly not steeped in pure hatred for Cassidy.  In fact, Ally begins to  - in an unexpected manner - find common personal ground with her and identifies with Cassidy's own career needs.  She's an aspiring musician with talent that Ally comes to quickly respect, but based on her own past ties with Sean and their troublesome break-up (caused by her moving away to seek out her own industry dreams), Ally starts to empathize with this bride-to-be and thinks that she could potentially jeopardize her own career if she marries Sean and stays put for him.  Ally and Cassidy don't become instant BFFs throughout the course of SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, but rather that these two woman that are drawn to the same man have a weird manner of bonding together in spite of Ally's vile plan.  And when the plan unavoidably comes to the forefront for all parties (as it does in these films), the scenes between these women have a natural honesty that one doesn't usually find in genre offerings like this.  Compellingly, Ally and Cassidy don't become mortal enemies that loathe one another; they mutually come from a place of common ground when it comes to the pratfalls of committing a life to Sean. 

As smart as moments like this are in SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, Franco's film is held back  - when it boils right down to it - by the fact that it's a self-admitted MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING clone (that Roberts' classic is referenced in the film) and is simply not as well engineered or, for that matter, funny.  There have also been oh-so-many films in the past about career power-broking women that are taken down a peg and forced to return to small town home surroundings from the big city and face a whole new series of personal setbacks and challenges, and SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW is certainly no exception.  It has tricks up its sleeves, no doubt, and tries to impart some freshness into old conventions, but the film is more idiosyncratic in parts than it is a fully satisfying and memorably hilarious whole.  On one positive, this film really earns its R-rating and tries to imbue as much nervy raunchiness into the proceedings as possible (the genre is typified by toothless, family friendly PG-13 entries, so Franco and Brie deserve props for making their offering feel more adult oriented).  This, unfortunately, comes at the expense of this film seemingly having a tonal identity crisis.  SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW wants to serious minded and solemn in some scenes and wacky and farcical in others, leading to the whole picture feeling too weirdly lopsided for its own good.  More often than not, Franco's film wants to embrace sitcom worthy shenanigans and pure silliness alongside getting dramatically deep with its flawed characters, and the push-pull effect as a result makes for an awkward watch. 

But, yeah, I still appreciated what Brie brought to the table here, as she bares her soul (among other things) during the course of the film and really has no issues whatsoever with tossing away any inhibitions when called to do so.  The film also has some solid supporting turns too, like Brie's old COMMUNITY co-star Danny Purdi stealing scenes as one of Sean's and Ally's old pals that becomes an ally and voice of reason for Ally during her mad weekend act of sabotage.  I also liked, as mentioned, Hagerty as Ally's sex-starved mom and Haley Joel Osment playing Sean's man-child brother that perhaps doesn't know how clueless and bumbling he is in any social setting.  Kiersey Clemons gives the most thankless performance here as Sean's fiancé, who's given more nuance and layers than I was expecting going in as the subject of Ally's subterfuge.  Still, for everything that clicks well, though, there are a  handful of other thorny things that don't in SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, which emerges as a minor genre diversion worthy of streaming on any random night (it's playing now on Amazon Prime), but one that doesn't subvert the romcom formulas enough for me to bring myself to fully recommend in the end.  That, and you could just skip it, watch the infinitely better MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING, and come out feeling satisfied and thinking like you've missed nothing in the process.  

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