The Collin-Denton Spotlighter is taking a look at some of the top movies to hit popular streaming services in recent days. We’ll be reviewing those movies not only by traditional standards, but by how well they hold up as quality streaming options for a comfy night in with a bowl of microwave popcorn.
Amazon Prime recently released “Somebody I Used to Know,” a rom-com starring Alison Brie and Jay Ellis that’s not to be confused with the popular Gotye song “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Read on to see if this Dave Franco-directed flick is as big of a hit as the song its title will remind you of.
The Spotlight Review
When a director feels the need to directly quote or reference a movie’s own title in the script, it always feels awkward and uncomfortable. It’s as if the director wants you to nudge your buddy next to you and point your finger at the screen like a Leo DiCaprio meme. It’s cheesy and tacky, something that ruins a scene.
In “Somebody I Used to Know,” that moment happens to come in what’s supposed to be a highly emotional one-on-one between the two leads, Alison Brie’s Ally and Jay Ellis’ Sean. Instead of pulling at the heartstrings though, it’s a moment that makes you want to pull out the remote and turn on almost anything else.
“Somebody I Used to Know” is the story of Brie’s Ally, a director of a trashy reality TV dessert competition show who decides to visit her mom in her hometown after the show gets the axe following its third season. There, she reconnects with Ellis’ Sean, an ex-boyfriend and committed family man who still lives in town.
Ally is forced to reconsider her career and Hollywood aspirations after reigniting that supposed spark between the two. The problem is that spark is so tiny that it’s almost imperceptible.
Co-written by husband-and-wife team Brie and fellow Hollywood star Dave Franco, who serves as the movie’s director, the script really only gives Ally and Sean one montage early in the film to show their alleged chemistry with one another. The rest of that spark gets confined to breathlessly dramatic confrontations, bashful glances and throwaway dialogue with side characters that’s intended to build up a shared history between the two.
Instead, the film reserves a lot of its early energy for building up a classic rom-com twist to Ally and Sean’s rekindling romance that anyone who’s ever even heard about the genre could see coming a mile away. In fact, the two leads actually have a brief argument over how important the revelation would have been during their initial romantic montage, a fact they both agree upon.
It’s decisions like that, in a movie that clearly has a sense of higher artistic aspirations given its richly constructed cinematography and creative conclusion, which make “Somebody I Used to Know” such a frustrating viewing experience. This is a movie that actually has a refreshing message to deliver about relationships and isn’t afraid to subvert expectations in delivering it during the finale. It just takes sitting through a largely unenjoyable and predictable plot to get there.
It certainly doesn’t help that Brie and Franco seem to have gotten tired of trying to make the movie funny after the first 15 minutes of footage. There are some vaguely effective cringe-comedy moments sprinkled throughout the rest of the film, but the times they elicit a chuckle are too few and far between to really warrant adding the -com to this rom-com.
There’s a lot of solidly comedic material to mine in the script too. Ally’s show is absolutely ridiculous, but only receives one continuing gag and a distracting subplot beyond its position as another dramatic focal point.
Her mom’s relationship with her third-grade teacher feels similar. It’s such a barebones and cheap gag, despite an often alluded to tense and distant relationship between Ally and her mom, that it comes across as little more than humorous window dressing on this overly dramatic story.
Even more frustratingly, there are gags and references that only the characters themselves seem to be in on. For instance, the characters all seem to have some sort of shared joke about Sean’s mom, Jojo, that never becomes funny in the slightest and receives absolutely zero elaboration as to its origin.
Other references to humorous parts of Ally’s past are almost so oblique that it’s hard to initially tell if characters are teasing her or actually referencing something important. It ends up almost feeling like you’re a distant cousin or uninvited guest at a family reunion. There’s so much referenced between the characters, lots of which you have no firsthand experience of, that the whole event becomes an exercise in staying conversationally afloat more than anything else.
The same is true for the staggering number of subplots, many of which the film doesn’t resolve until a timelapse ending which helps explain where the characters are now. There would be something admirable if the movie really stretched into a two-hour plus runtime to tell a more cohesive and whole story with these characters, one that either ditched the comedy altogether or worked it in more fully, but that’s not what happened here.
With only an admittedly creative conclusion to Ally and Sean’s relationship as a satisfying payoff then, “Somebody I Used to Know” isn’t worth the time and energy to get acquainted with. It’s best to leave this film as a streaming stranger.
Spotlight Score: 4/10
Skip or Stream
This movie is a clear skip, even for dedicated rom-com fans. The road to the romantic payoff is so rocky that it’s easier to simply steer clear and find a different flick for your Friday night. Paired with the recent release of “Shotgun Wedding,” Amazon Prime needs to work on itself before it goes searching for another rom-com partner.
“Somebody I Used to Know” lacks the kind of creative direction necessary to make it a satisfying experience. With an uneven tone for the genre and an overly busy plot, the movie falls short of becoming the kind of pop culture hit its title nearly evokes.