Somebody I Used to Know, is a vast improvement over Dave Franco's directorial debut and should be the launching point for the rest of his directing career.
WRITTEN BY ANDREW KORPAN / FEBRUARY 10, 2023
True love is finding yourself someone who supports you like Dave Franco and Allison Brie do each other. In each of Franco’s directorial efforts, his wife Brie starred in them. While she can occasionally teeter on playing eerily similar straight-arrow characters, Brie is such an honest actress that makes her feel like a real person, if that makes sense. And after the slightly disappointing, but equally promising directorial debut from Franco, The Rental, his sophomore directorial outing, Somebody I Used to Know, is a vast improvement over his directorial debut and should be the launching point for the rest of his directing career.
Ally (Brie) is a budding director who directs a reality TV show called Dessert Island: All Stars (think any of the countless “All Stars” Food Network shows). Not willing to give into the system and start all over again — I must say, the Dess-Hurt Locker is a mighty good reboot idea — she decides a reset is needed amid her quarter-life crisis. So after her show gets canceled, Ally takes a trip back to her hometown to visit her mom. Upon arriving, she heads down to the local bar where she runs into her ex, Sean (Jay Ellis), whom she dumped when she made the jump into pursuing her dream of directing. The two spend a magical day going down memory lane, even going as far as sucking face, before Sean’s wedding weekend.
To further complicate things, Ally is asked to serve as the videographer of the wedding by Sean’s mother (on an iPhone of all things) seeing that she’s the “big director.” That flame hasn’t quite gone out yet, and Ally must wrestle (GLOW pun intended) with her feelings while also getting closer to his future bride, Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons). Cassidy jokingly asks Ally if she’s going to cause a My Best Friend’s Wedding-like scenario, and while I’ve only ever seen the synopsis of that film, it’s good that Somebody I Used to Know jumps the gun and acknowledges the similar plots first.
Somebody I Used to Know is also a major step up for director Franco. His directorial debut, The Rental, was a case of clever ideas and poor execution. Something that’s instinctual to Franco and cannot be debated is his direction and ability to shoot a movie. While Brian Lannin takes over as DP from Christian Sprenger, a staple of Franco’s films is one tracking shot — and I believe he’s now 2-for-2 in his directorial efforts.
It helps that Franco and his crew did a great job when location scouting. The small town that Ally is from hits the perfect note that’s not quite Hallmark-y but does resemble a real-life town where the farmer’s market in the town square is the big event of the month. And the forest at which Sean and Cassidy’s wedding takes place is straight out of Endor. If you walk in while somebody’s watching this film when they’re in the forest, I guarantee you’ll wonder if there’s yet another Star Wars spin-off coming.
Franco and Brie collaborated on the script — which was a great call. Maybe all Franco needed was his wife to help steer the ship in the right direction after The Rental — which was co-written by Franco and Joe Swanberg — and its lacklustre script. Somebody I Used to Know occasionally falls into the trap of abrupt, crude jokes that you expect from the likes of Neighbours, but is aided by a lot of more intimate moments that feel authentic. One has to imagine that Brie’s influence can be felt in how Ally’s story is portrayed. Ally’s character arc is quite empowering when you think about it. Ally’s not only a workaholic, she’s got the odds stacked against her as a woman director. The ambition that she has is almost blinding, but you see her mature throughout Somebody I Used to Know.
And maybe the rom-com is a genre Franco is more comfortable with. In all honesty, for as clever as parts of the creepypasta-style story of The Rental was, the writing and pacing kept it short of a really great horror flick. Whether or not Franco is a massive horror fan is something only he and those closest to him would know, but it did feel as though he was slightly out of his element whereas Somebody I Used to Know plays in a similar wheelhouse to some of the films Franco has acted in himself.
Brie has consistently proven to be more than a case of nepotism when starring in her husband’s films. Again, Brie has such an earnestness that breaks through the screen and she really does nail the small-town girl vibe, making her someone that you can’t help but root for; even when she does some really messed up things in this film or gives a freestyle performance that begins as rocky as Jonah Hill’s slam poetry in 22 Jump Street (though, unlike Hill’s slam poetry, Ally’s performance does get better).
Maybe the authenticity of Ally is felt because of how relatable the idea of fretting over “the one who got away” is. Face it — we’ve all likely reminisced about the person, or people, who we thought was going to be by our side for the long haul. When that doesn’t happen, no matter whose fault the breakup is, you can’t help but think about what could’ve been when you trigger those memories. In all honesty, not many rom-coms that come to mind even bother tackling this subject matter; usually opting for a “Hollywood ending” instead.
The only time where the script falls flat is the inclusion of the subplot revolving around Ally’s series. On one hand, I can appreciate that the film acknowledges the hardships of having a show canceled and then the potential for it being shopped around to different networks in the age of streaming, but the criminally-underused Ayden Mayeri is sprinkled in via FaceTime calls. It’s glaringly clear that the subplot is just used as a slight inconvenience to Ally’s trip that comes around too infrequently to have stakes.
Mayeri, who co-starred in The Afterparty with Franco and Spin Me Round with Brie, has consistently been a standout in recent supporting roles like Confess, Fletch and the aforementioned Spin Me Round. Her versatility cannot be overlooked, and her performance as Ally’s assistant rivals that of Jessica Henwick in Glass Onion. But as David Ehrlich would say — such good food, such small portions. This is my plea to Hollywood to cast her in more meaningful roles. I need a rom-com with Mayeri at the center of it and she deserves it.
The title Somebody I Used to Know does sound like a line from a Coldplay song, but unlike the British rock group, Franco’s sophomore directorial effort is full of life and is proof of progression in his career. The quarter-life crisis plot is nothing new, but Somebody I Used to
Know is led by a buoyant and authentic performance from Brie and one can hope that this is just the first of many films co-written by the real-life couple.