' ' Cinema Romantico: Somebody I Used to Know

Monday, May 01, 2023

Somebody I Used to Know

The Somebody that Ally (Alison Brie) used to know is Sean (Jay Ellis), an old boyfriend from her hometown of Leavenworth, Washington whom she left to purse big dreams of making documentary movies in Los Angeles. Those docs became reality shows instead, namely some horrifying entity called Dessert Island, on which we see her interviewing a contestant as the movie opens, putting into perspective how her character has a gift for manipulation, underscored in Brie’s countenance throughout this sequence, hardly moving but eager in the eyes, which almost seem to guide this dupe into saying what she wants. The show gets kicked to the curb, though, and Ally returns home where she runs into Sean and falls in love with him all over again only to learn he is not only engaged to musician Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons) but their marriage is this weekend(!). Rather than step inside, she gets involved, agreeing to document the wedding weekend as a means to break it up.

If it all sounds a bit like “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” hey, this is post-modern Hollywood, where that reference is explicitly made rather than simply embodied in the script that Brie and her husband, director Dave Franco, wrote together. There’s a similar sensation to that Julia Roberts/Cameron Diaz-starring 1997 rom com, true, especially in how the movie never entirely writes off Cassidy, but there’s some “Young Adult,” the Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody 2011 joint in which Charlize Theron’s monstrous writer returns home and rather than learning something new, finds her own monstrous behavior validated, almost elevated into myth. There’s a narcissistic monster lurking within Ally, that’s for sure, and though Brie is just fine in the movie’s breezy comedy scenes, like a long shot in which her character hides under a booth when Sean first spies her from across a bar, she truly comes alive in how she lets charm and malicious intent just sort of bleed into one another, where her frequent laugh shades into something devilish. You sense how people might be fooled by her even as you sense how she might be willing to take things too far. We return to that opening interview in our minds every time Ally is with Sean.

Ally’s increasing determination to blow up the nuptials, and her scenes with Danny Pudi’s smart-aleck friend of the couple, suggest a burgeoning black comedy, though the further “Somebody I Used to Know” goes, the less comic it gets and the more serious it becomes. This isn’t all bad. It ventures deeper into the emotional weeds than you might suspect, finding three people more emotionally confused than the initial Hallmark small town machinations would suggest. Yet, even if the script allows Cassidy to become a more developed character, a scene in which she and the members of her band look suspiciously at Ally from afar is telling, one of the only times we see her character through her own eyes rather than through the eyes of Ally. That’s because it’s Ally’s movie, in a way, and Brie’s too, even as the racial dynamics innately make this uncomfortable. That they’re never acknowledged only makes it more so, coming across like it wants to be a win for inclusivity but never truly seeing that a white woman as guiding light, only made ironic by a conclusion meant to emblemize stripping down even while wearing metaphorical blinders. 

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