Alison Brie - Dave Franco - Somebody I Used to Know
Credit: Amazon Studios
by Andrew Dignan Featured Film Streaming Scene

Somebody I Used to Know — Dave Franco

February 10, 2023

A Type A careerist finds her life spinning out of control after the man she’s long harbored feelings for announces his intentions of marrying a younger woman, inspiring her to recklessly insert herself into their relationship to try and split the happy couple apart. She feigns friendship with the bride-to-be, while secretly undermining the couple every chance she gets – and the whole thing explodes, spectacularly, the weekend of the wedding. Fans of romantic comedies will likely recognize this as the premise of 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding, which has now been ported over, with only a handful of tweaks, to the new Amazon-premiering Somebody I Used to Know, from actor-turned-director Dave Franco. It’s a bit of theft the film even cops to with Kiersey Clemons’ Cassidy, the younger bride in this love triangle, asking Alison Brie’s Ally if she’s not, in fact, attempting her own version of the Julia Roberts film after the latter elbows her way into the wedding party. It’s an acknowledgment on the film’s part of how derivative this all is, but also a slight upending of expectations. Everyone on screen seems to recognize Ally’s motives, they just refuse to intervene, and even humor her attempts to sow chaos. Is it merely apathy on the film’s part or recognition that, perhaps, this union isn’t meant to go forward?

Aspiring documentarian Ally left her hometown of Leavenworth, Washington (a quaint community modeled after a German village) for Los Angeles ten years earlier and, like so many before her, she sold out for the relative ease and quick money of producing reality television. After the show she created – some kind of cooking competition where everyone sleeps with one another – is abruptly canceled by the network, she tucks tail, retreating to Leavenworth to try and figure out her next step and get some TLC from her mother, Libby (Julie Haggerty). While drinking her sorrows away at a local bar, Ally has a chance encounter with Sean (Jay Ellis), the guy she spurned for her big city dreams, and they immediately fall back into old habits, which here amounts to public drunkenness and harassing the town’s reindeer population. It’s the kind of magical evening that finds them enjoying one another’s company well past sunrise, yet, after Ally initiates a kiss at the end of the night, she senses Sean tensing up. Has she misread the situation or is there something else?

The “something else” is Cassidy, Sean’s fiancée, who he failed to mention the whole time he and Ally were out all night, shotgunning beer and liquid cheese. Ally inadvertently crashes the pre-wedding festivities after stopping by Sean’s house and feels embarrassment and confusion: why would Sean not mention he’s days away from getting married… unless he still has feelings for her? Improbably roped into serving as videographer for the wedding by Sean’s family (she does make documentaries, after all), Ally’s presence only puts further strain on Sean and Cassidy’s relationship. Cassidy’s not an idiot and recognizes the disruptive influence of having Sean’s ex hovering around, but she treats the whole thing like a game of chicken, playing things cool while waiting to see who’s going to blink first.

The central question of why anyone would invite this sort of temptation into an already fraught occasion like a wedding is never directly answered, and while some of that is merely shoddiness on the film’s part, it does lend the film a useful level of tension, providing an undercurrent of uneasiness to otherwise rote sitcom hijinks. Far from an innocent here, Sean repeatedly sends out mixed signals: Outwardly distancing himself from Ally while failing to intervene once it becomes clear her presence is a distraction, then sneaking off so they can talk about his fears and anxieties, the stuff he can’t bring up with Cassidy. A late revelation even calls into question how much bumping into Ally that first night was actually happenstance on his part. Yet, in keeping with its overall approach, which can either be interpreted as generosity or indecisiveness, the film refuses to come down on Sean as either a ditherer or a cad. Like seemingly everyone here, he’s just working through some things.

That lack of clarity is most noticeable with Ally, whose actions are outwardly psychotic (in the grand tradition of The Onion headline “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life [Person] Arrested”), but the film is ultimately too timid to offer much of an opinion about her either. Alternating between Machiavelian schemer (she searches out Cassidy’s parents and surreptitiously invites them to the wedding even though they’ve been cut out of her life for good reason) and a sympathetic ear for both Sean and Cassidy, it can be difficult to track Ally’s objectives on a scene-by-scene basis. Does Ally actually love Sean enough to break up his marriage, or does he just remind her of a time when she had hope for her future? Have her years producing reality TV hardened her to messy human emotions and rendered her thirsty for artificial drama? And is this all merely a passing fad, not coincidentally timed to a lull in her career?

Co-written by Franco and Brie (married in real life, the actress previously appearing in the filmmaker’s Airbnb thriller, The Rental), the film is caught between good-natured bawdiness and touchy-feely earnestness. In any given moment, we might get a running gag about Ally walking in on her 60-something mother having sex, or the film indulging Brie’s professed love of nudism, or a heart-to-heart about Sean’s need for control stemming from his abandonment issues, or the suggestion that Cassidy’s desire to remain on tour with her rock band mirrors Ally’s own professional aspirations. And the film’s unwillingness to go for blood, always quickly absolving its characters of their relative transgressions, ends up leaving a lot of meat on the bone. Not vicious enough to work as cringe comedy yet too irreverent and loaded up with groan-worthy pop culture references to be truly bittersweet, Somebody I Used to Know – like the characters themselves – just feels perpetually torn.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 6.