Love triangles are both a rom-com staple and brutal to deploy with precision.
Make one of the parties too villainous, or bland, and the chemistry experiment blows up in our faces.
“Somebody I Used to Know” makes a different, but equally critical error in its imbalanced trio. That, and the film’s indifferent approach to comedy, undermines a sophisticated look at relationships.
Alison Brie plays Ally, a hard-charging TV producer licking her wounds after her reality series gets the ax.
Ally returns to her hometown to regroup but quickly reunites with her old flame, Sean (Jay Ellis, charming). The old sparks are still there, and so is Sean’s fiancé (Kiersey Clemons, “Dope”).
The big wedding is only days away.
Is Ally too late to resurrect her relationship with Sean? Can she stop the wedding in time? Could Brie, a delightful actress, make Ally less appealing?
The latter is doubtful.
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This isn’t the first time a rom-com attempted to shatter a wedding ceremony. The film goes so far as to name-check “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” a genre classic. That film offered Julia Roberts at her most vulnerable.
Brie’s Ally is a mess, but it’s hard to like her on any level. She’s obsessed with her trashy reality show, a dessert-themed dating debacle. She has no empathy for the future bride for a good, long while, nor the hurt she could cause Sean’s friends and family.
And she dismisses her kind-hearted Ma (Julie Hagerty, swiping a few scenes during her small screen time).
Is anyone rooting for Ally here? And, yes, that matters.
The film can survive a callous leading lady, understanding the story may force her to address her toxic impulses. But much of “Somebody I Used to Know” is a snooze, brimming with lackluster sequences and characters who don’t burrow under our skin in the best of ways.
— Darren Paltrowitz (@paltrowitz) February 6, 2023
Director Dave Franco, who co-wrote the film with Brie (his off-screen spouse), delivers some droll moments tied to Ally’s Hollywood gig. Reality shows are easy targets, but the laughs come easily all the same.
Then, said laughs dry up. In their place we get forced gaiety from Ally reuniting with Sean’s extended family. That paves the way for a mini-“Community” reunion with Brie and co-star Danny Pudi.
So there’s that.
Otherwise, the film’s core theme doesn’t emerge until late in the story. It’s a feminist twist rarely addressed in romantic features, and it’s handled with the appropriate sense of proportion. The subject isn’t strong enough to hang a story around, though, leaving the film’s third act bereft of dramatic tension.
The Franco-Brie screenplay occasionally remembers it’s a comedy, but the results are often crude and uneven.
That, plus too many scenes wallowing in cringe, mean “Somebody I Used to Know” is an ambitious but clunky spin on the rom-com template.
HiT or Miss: “Somebody I Used to Know” offers something we haven’t seen before in modern rom-coms, but we’re forced to spend time with a terribly off-putting heroine.