The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there…
They say you should never go back, but this is not advice heeded by 35 year old Kate (Gillian Jacobs), the protagonist of Kris Rey’s new film, I Used to Go Here. She has just had a book published and her former professor David (Jemaine Clement) at her alma mater is so impressed and proud about having a successful alumni, he invites her to speak to his creative writing class. So Kate heads back to the old haunts of her college town for the first time in 15 years – what could possibly go wrong?
The film starts with Kate surrounded by pregnant friends, including Laura (Zoe Chao), at a baby shower, where Kate has to awkwardly pose for group photos with her ‘book baby’ replacing a baby bump. The massive high of having a book published is swiftly followed by the disappointment of the cancellation of her book tour. It’s at this moment of vulnerability that David’s call comes in, so it’s perhaps understandable that she wants to head back to the place where she once a star student.
Once she’s back in her old college town, she visits the house she used to live in and strikes up an unlikely friendship with the group of students living there now – Hugo (Josh Wiggins), Animal (Forrest Goodluck), Emma (Khloe Janel) and Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley). The new star student of the creative writing class is Hugo’s girlfriend April (Hannah Marks) and David is clearly giving her the kind of attention that he once gave Kate.
Although there’s some understandable cringe factor in Kate hanging out with people so much younger than her, the age-appropriate men in her life are not exactly covering themselves in glory. David is now married to Alexis (Kristina Valada-Viars), who he shares some tension-filled scenes with, then she mysteriously disappears. It is very obvious that he has his favourite students (coincidentally all women) and is giving them ‘special one-to-one tutorials’ in his home. Kate bumps into someone she knew at college (the hilariously named) Bradley Cooper (Jorma Taccone), who invites her on what seems like a date, but he brings his girlfriend Rachel (Kate Micucci) along. On the other hand, Hugo and Animal show a refreshing maturity and open-mindedness. They’re also supportive of Kate, let her vent about her disappointments and worries, don’t judge her or think she’s old, sad or washed up.
Gillian Jacobs is best known for Community, but she has now appeared in a steady stream of indie film and TV, including Girls, Love, Lemon, Life of the Party and Ibiza, all of which utilise her gift for comedy. It’s nice to see Giant Little Ones‘ Josh Wiggins, The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Blood Quantum‘s Forrest Goodluck and Daniel Isn’t Real and Banana Split‘s Hannah Marks in supporting roles. The younger characters and the actors who play them both give me hope for the future and I definitely want to see more from Khloe Janal. Jemaine Clement is reliably deadpan, using his own Kiwi accent in his role as the creepy professor.
The plot does veer into slightly farcical territory, with Tall Brandon getting a scene with Hugo’s Mum which would be more in place in a gross-out comedy from twenty years ago, like American Pie. One of the highlights is Kate’s over-enthusiastic driver, Elliott (Rammel Chan) who escorts her around the college town. Rey’s script mostly nails the fine balance of comedy and drama, however and Jacobs carries the story well. Also, the fractious relationship between Kate and the landlady of the traditional (not Air) B&B where she stays while she’s in town, Mrs Beeter (Cindy Gold) is another hilarious high point.
The detail in the costume design (by Kate Grube) and production design (by Megan Hovany), of the students and their student house, in particular is highly effective in building character. It also subtly differentiates between the younger people and Kate, and even more so, the world of her ‘grown up’ friends.
If you’re of a certain age, there is much to relate to here. My university years were some of the best of my life, but I would be extremely hesitant about revisiting my old stomping grounds now and seeing how much they have changed and realising how much I have changed, in turn. “The things that had changed seem out of place, and the things that had remained the same made me feel out of place” ― Scott Cawthon,
Revisiting the past is always a dangerous little game.
I Used to Go Here is a great little independent comedy, with some finely-tuned, well-observed writing and a fantastic central performance from Gillian Jacobs. I now want to watch Kris Rey’s 2015 feature Unexpected (starring Cobie Smulders) and will look forward to seeing what she makes in the future.