If there is one thing that is certain in life, it’s that life is filled with uncertainty. And because of this uncertainty, it’s almost impossible not to ask yourself, “what if?” occasionally. What if I followed my heart? What if I accepted that job offer? What if I never left my comfort zone? What if I pursued my dreams? These doubts usually spring up when you are in a less-than-ideal situation that ultimately makes every decision you’ve made up until that point seem like a complete disaster. It’s a tough, unglamorous topic to tackle and a tricky one to get right onscreen without treading down a road of clichés. Somebody I Used To Know, however, boldly asks these questions that keep us up at night, and thankfully, Alison Brie is determined to get some answers.

Even though this film is quite endearing and funny, billing it as a romantic comedy doesn’t feel right. Yes, there is romance, and yes, there is comedy, but labeling a movie as such automatically ascribes certain connotations and expectations. They typically have a certain air about them, and a handful of performative and broad comedic moments that remind you that you are indeed watching a movie. And those movies are great! But Somebody I Used To Know—like life—can’t be clearly defined. Instead, it embraces its messiness and unpredictability, and the very harsh reality that “life happens.”

Directed by Dave Franco, the film follows Ally (played by Brie, who co-wrote the film with Franco) a television showrunner consumed by the filming of the reality show Dessert Island. (Basically, it’s The Bachelor meets Cupcake Wars.) She’s wrapping up filming and is ready to focus on the new episodes around the corner, but her work is forced to a halt when the show gets surprisingly canceled. Though she won’t admit it, the cancellation was a bit of a relief. Reality television was never the destination she had in mind, as she set out to be a documentarian, but it was in the industry that she left her quaint hometown and loved ones for in the first place. With nothing to really lose or gain, Ally decides that it can’t hurt to her hometown, completely unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster that was ahead.

Image via Prime Video

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Quickly upon returning to Leavenworth, Washington (a town so charming that even the McDonald’s and Subway look like rustic log cabins), Ally hits up a local bar spot that was a staple for her back in the day. She’s initially horrified to see Sean (Insecure’s Jay Ellis), an ex-boyfriend from a decade prior, but is instantly put at ease by their charming and playful banter. It’s a totally surreal blast from the past that neither one of them saw coming, but it’s immediately clear that they both couldn’t be happier that it did.

Brie and Ellis’s chemistry is palpable and their comfort with each other exudes their characters’ intimate history. They spend the day and night soaking in nostalgia as they reminisce about the weird people they grew up with and indulge in beer and oversized soft pretzels. Ally’s naturally mischievous side brings out a similar side in Sean as they laugh and run through the dimly lit streets and snag a selfie with a reindeer. After hours of talking until the sun comes up and enjoying nature’s bounty before them, Sean drops Ally home. They kiss, and Ally invites him inside, but Sean’s emotional walls shoot up. These two are obviously perfect together, so, what’s the catch?

The film kicks into gear when Ally shows up at Sean’s house uninvited the following day when she decided that she wasn’t going to let him be the one who got away…. again. After all, she was the one who decided to call it quits on their relationship, so she could pursue her career in California. She’s met with the same weird energy he had after they kissed, which makes her profession of love to him on his doorstep all the more vulnerable. Sean’s mother Joanne (Olga Merediz) unknowingly interrupts this moment and is thrilled to see Ally back in Sean’s life. So delighted, in fact, that she has her stay for dinner. And, this is where we find out why Sean’s been acting so strange: he’s engaged to a woman named Kasidy (played brilliantly by Kiersey Clemons), and they are actually getting married that weekend.

Somebody I Used to Know Jay Ellis Alison Brie
Image via Prime Video

Dave Franco really crafts something special here. The story is grounded and steeped in authenticity from start to finish, making everything that unfolds feel painfully real and plausible. The tone is ambiguous, leaning far more into bleaker territory than stereotypical “rom-com” territory, while still managing to avoid too much drama. The laughs feel earned and perfectly doled out, which works to the advantage of the characters and the finely-tuned story. These moments of levity are typically courtesy of Sean’s brother, Jeremy (Haley Joel Osment), a totally lovable goofball who thinks Ally’s job means she basically runs Hollywood, and Benny (played by Brie’s Community co-star Danny Pudi), whose jokey friendship with Ally that stems from their childhood is so lovely that it practically demands its own movie.

Alison Brie bares it all in a film that positions her at the center. If you follow her varied career, then it’s no surprise that she has an immense acting range. This performance feels like a blend of her past roles, as Ally is the nice girl your parents would love, but with a bit of an edge. Her interactions with Kasidy are understandably tense (at first) as both feel wildly threatened by the other. Ally can be bristly and passive-aggressive like Brie’s character Sloane from Happiest Season, but Ally is most aligned with Brie’s self-assured but somewhat aimless Lucy from How to Be Single. Playing a confident character comes easily to Brie, making the moments where Ally retreats into self-doubt especially potent.

Somebody I Used to Know Alison Brie Danny Pudi
Image via Prime Video

One of the many refreshing things about Somebody I Used To Know is the way Kasidy and Ally are dynamically written. They lay all of their messy baggage out on the table rather quickly, calling out the elephant in the room that they both have feelings for the same guy. Not only does this bond them, but it creates a sense of respect between two people that should otherwise hate each other. It’s easy to pit two people against each other (especially two women over one guy) for the easy laugh and tension, but Franco and Brie sidestep that trope in the writing and direction rather impressively. Of course, there is a myriad of obstacles that present themselves and fray this early level of understanding between Kasidy and Ally, but the narrative manages to maintain its uniqueness throughout. And, there is a heck of a lot of personal growth, too.

It’s always a bit of a gamble when someone known for one profession in the entertainment industry tries their hand at another. Their every move is under a microscope and everyone is ready to criticize and explain why they should stay in their lane. But between Dave Franco’s 2020 feature directorial debut with the horror mystery The Rental (which he also co-wrote) and now the romantic and unapologetically honest Somebody I Used To Know, the Neighbors star is quickly proving himself to be a multi-faceted filmmaker you want to keep your eye on.

Rating: B+

Somebody I Used To Know comes to Prime Video on February 10.

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