I Used to Go Here Review
Community star Gillian Jacobs takes centre stage in this light-hearted indie-comedy from writer-director Kris Rey and The Lonely Island producers - Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone - I Used to Go Here. At its best, the film is a funny and smart look at creative and personal dissatisfaction with a stand-out performance from Jacobs. At its worst, it walks a well-trodden path with characters that do not sit comfortably.
Everything seems to be going wrong for 35-year old author Kate Conklin (Jacobs): you’d think things would be taking off for her with the release of her debut novel and a box full of wedding invitations on the table. But sales aren’t high and the invitations are headed for the trash. After her book tour is cancelled, Kate is invited to do a reading at her alma mater by her former teacher (and big-time crush) David Kirkpatrick (Jemaine Clement). This weekend makes up the plot of the film, following Kate through her trip back to college, reuniting with her favourite professor, and all her misadventures with the eccentric students living in her old house, romance and all.
The best parts of I Used to Go Here are often also the smallest. Rey litters the film with moments of specificity. These give the film a depth that could easily be lacking with a time setting of just one weekend. The majority of these snippets are centred around Kate and her life. In the opening scene, we follow Kate entering her home, a small place filled with the mess (and multitude of discarded Starbucks take-outs) of a freelance writer, while later this is mirrored when we see her letting herself into her B&B room as Kate yells at the owner about how she can do what she wants, slamming the door shut like a teen with an overbearing parent. These moments tell us so much about Kate and where her head’s at, and it's great to see Jacobs fully taking the reigns.
Within its concise 80-minute runtime the film is really a story about self-acceptance through a comical regression to a ‘better’ time. After a brief morale boost from the warm welcome given by her former university, to the initial nostalgia of seeing her old house and haunts, Kate quickly devolves into the habits of her youth, both good and bad. She crashes a party in her former house and makes some much-needed, though very unexpected, new friends. They share drink, drugs and even midnight escapades to track down cheating girlfriends. It would be easy to judge her for her actions (being fifteen years older than the others makes for some strange dynamics) but Jacobs brings out her disillusionment and you can see how much she misses being at an age where everything is ahead of her, rather than behind.
Nevertheless, although I Used to Go Here is incredibly refreshing in its presentation of student-teacher relationships, with a female protagonist carrying out the illicit act whilst simultaneously dealing with being on the receiving end with her own former professor, it doesn’t change the dynamics of the relationship. Being someone who has first-hand experienced of older men using their position of power to interact with me in ways that I would not be comfortable with, the subversion of the trope doesn’t distance the story enough from the reality. However, many others will have no issue with this, merely reacting with a raised eyebrow and that is because of the nuanced performances by the leads. The kids, like the adults, are afforded agency even if the flings are clandestine.
When focussed on the interpersonal relationships between Kate and the kids, I Used to Go Here is a compelling and engaging watch. This slice-of-life indie is driven by its characters, people who are held up with confidence by an assured cast, helmed by Jacobs who proves that she can lead a film. At times endearing, at times very funny, it is a quaint and interesting film. The issue falls with the intimate nature of character studies; if you don’t like the characters, it’s harder to like the film.
I Used to Go Here is released on digital platforms in the UK from September 14.