In the new easy-going comedy “I Used to Go Here” Gillian Jacobs plays Kate, a down-on-her-luck author of a new not-so-great novel. She gets news from her publishers that low early sales numbers has forced them to cancel her scheduled publicity book tour. To make matters worse her fiancé recently broke up with her mere weeks before their wedding. And I thought I was having a rotten week.
That sets up this engaging but uneven new film from writer-director Kris Rey. The movie explores the rut thirtysomething’s often find themselves in after their big life aspirations don’t quite turn out as planned. Your career choice hasn’t been what you hoped. Most of your friends are married and having kids while you’re still single and calling off weddings. This is Kate in a nutshell. She graduated from college full of drive and ambition. She set off to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. But fifteen years later with an ex-fiancé and her first published book floundering, she’s left questioning her past decisions and uncertain about her future.
“I Used to Go There” gets off to a really good start, spending its time focused on Kate as she manages her disappointment while clinging to any optimism she can find. She gets a call from her old literature professor David Kilpatrick (a perfectly smarmy Jemaine Clement) who invites her to come to her alma mater to do a reading from her new book. Once back in the cozy college town of Carbondale, Illinois she begins gushing nostalgia and remembering when her life was full of energy and ambition.
These scenes work well because Rey portrays Kate’s struggles with a thoughtful and witty authenticity. Meanwhile Jacobs does a terrific job earning our empathy mostly through the film’s first half. Her performance is rooted in honesty and brings out a frazzled and charmingly awkward quality to Kate that makes her character easy to root for. That is until the last act where things unfortunately unravel.
While in Carbondale Kate befriends a group of college students living in her old house: Hugo (Josh Wiggins), Animal (Forrest Goodluck), Emma (Khloe Janel), and Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley). The movie uses Kate’s friendship with the coeds to playfully highlight her regression as she drowns her adult woes by hanging out and getting stoned with her new (and considerably younger) friends. There’s a great chemistry between the four young people and through them Kate reconnects with the care-free days of her youth. A welcomed release? Probably. Ill-advised? Most definitely.
But this is also where the movie eventually loses its focus, specifically in the final 30 minutes. The story gets sidetracked with an overlong and out-of-tune spy mission where Kate and the coeds try to uncover if Hugo’s girlfriend April (Hannah Marks) is cheating on him. The whole thing feels yanked out of another movie, even throwing in a weird sanitized “American Pie” angle with the Tall Brandon character. From there things get a little icky as Kate makes some bad choices that the movie kinda condemns but with very little conviction.
“I Used to Go Here” has all the right ingredients and it utilizes them for the majority of its 85 minute running time. It has some fine performances especially from Jacobs and Clement. And I haven’t even mentioned Rammel Chan who is hysterical as Kate’s student liaison Elliot. It’s a shame the film can’t stick its landing. The final act leaves you wondering about the story’s overall ambition and the late-movie tonal shifts are distracting. Still, there are things to like and Rey dodges a lot of college movie clichés￼ and cheap comedy tropes in telling her story. At least most of the time. “I Used to Go Here” is now available on VOD.
VERDICT – 3 STARS