Charm is a difficult quality to quantify. Like most subjective elements of art, it’s something that resonates with certain audiences. “Somebody I Used To Know” is an incredibly charming film thanks to personable leads, relatable moments and fun sequences, but it would be hard to qualify those aspects into something more concrete. In that way, it’s a lot like how we feel when we fall for someone; it’s that ineffable sensation that the other person makes us experience. Director Dave Franco, who co-wrote with star Alison Brie, manages to take that amorphous feeling of attraction and imbue it into a charming and inventive film with parts that resonate with realism and others that simply land out of hilarity. It’s not reinventing the cinematic wheel (and, in fact, owes more than a little to another title that came before it), but “Somebody I Used To Know” is a treat of a movie that will win over many viewers.
Ally (Brie) left her hometown in Washington to pursue her dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker. Years later, that dream has faded a bit, and following the cancellation of her baking-challenge reality TV show, she finds herself going back home to visit her mom (Julie Hagerty). While there, she reconnects with Sean (Jay Ellis), her former longtime boyfriend, and it feels like chemistry is still there. While meeting up with Sean’s family again and their mutual friend Benny (Danny Pudi), Ally discovers that Sean is engaged to be married to Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons). However, Ally still feels something between her and Sean and is determined on finding out if she’s right.
It’s clear that “Somebody I Used To Know” owes a debt of its existence, somewhat, to “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Hell, it’s even namechecked by Cassidy at one point. There’s the witty friend who comments on the protagonist’s ill-conceived plots, the scene where someone tries to humiliate someone else through bad singing and more. However, Franco’s movie isn’t a remake but, at worst, an example of how to tell that same story better. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” tries to make the lead character’s awful actions funny, assuming the audience will support her because it’s Julia Roberts doing these heinous things. “Somebody I Used To Know” understands that Ally’s schemes are bad, and there’s never a doubt that she’s meddling somewhere she shouldn’t be. The closest it gets to muddying those waters is in making Sean’s affections more of a question mark. (Is Ally misreading the situation, or is he just having second thoughts?) But again, that aspect isn’t played as a lark but rather a real emotional journey for the character to take.
That all makes “Somebody I Used To Know” sound leaden, but it’s quite hilarious. There are multiple laugh-out-loud moments and bits of dialogue that are inspired. The comedy works as well as it does because the characters feel real, the relationships feel lived-in, and the emotional issues they’re undergoing are recognizable. By grounding it in this relatable framework, Franco and Brie can inject the script with sillier elements, and it all still works. Small jokes about Ally’s absurd baking show land just as well as big jokes about her mom’s sexual proclivities. Those are outside the more realistic aspects, but they work because the audience has already bought into these characters and the overarching situation.
The comedy and heart of “Somebody I Used To Know” are helped tremendously by the fact that the cast is terrific from top to bottom. Brie is incredibly winning as the lost adult trying to figure out where it all went wrong. At some points, she’s the innocent dreamer, while at other times, she’s the self-centered schemer, but Brie performs it as if they’re different parts of the greater tapestry of her character. Ellis and Brie have phenomenal chemistry, but so do Ellis and Clemons, which makes for a more intriguing love triangle, and one with greater depth. There’s also a terrifically funny performance by Haley Joel Osment as Sean’s brother, a wholesomely dorky guy who has some of the best comedic moments of the film. Everyone gets to comically shine in at least one scene, but they also all maintain their humanity in even the silliest of situations. That’s the heart of the “rom” part in “rom-com” that too many movies forget about; if we care about the characters, then we’re invested in their lives and all their choices. That’s how emotional weight creates a realistic foundation for greater flights of fancy.
“Somebody I Used To Know” isn’t a cinematic revolution. Hell, it’s startingly close to a Julia Roberts vehicle from 1997. But that doesn’t mean it’s some trifle to be tossed aside or forgotten. This is the type of movie that people revisit multiple times because it’s comforting. They rewatch it because they see themselves in the characters. They go back to it because the humor is so ingrained in the humanity that it resonates and delights every single time. “Somebody I Used To Know” is excessively charming, and that goes a long way toward endearing it to viewers and making it an entertaining watch.
Starring: Alison Brie, Jay Ellis, Kiersey Clemons, Danny Pudi, Haley Joel Osment
Director: Dave Franco