Behind ‘Somebody I Used to Know’

Ally meets Benny (Danny Pudi), an old mutual friend of her and her ex-boyfriend Sean (Jay Ellis), in the new rom-com “Somebody I Used to Know.” Brie and Pudi cross paths again as former “Community” co-stars. // Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

Coming to Prime Video just four days before Valentine’s Day, “Somebody I Used to Know” features Jay Ellis, Alison Brie and Kiersey Clemons in a delightfully modern rom-com. From big-city corporate jobs to small-town love triangles, director Dave Franco blends classic romantic tropes with refreshing additions, ranging from punk bands to nonsexual nudity, to create a movie that fits into today’s day and age without feeling like overt pandering.

Franco and Brie, married in real life, wrote the film together. Though the two have worked together acting in films like “The Little Hours” and “The Disaster Artist,” “Somebody I Used to Know” is their first time collaborating as co-writers.

Workaholic Ally (Alison Brie, “GLOW”), a Los Angeles reality television producer, takes a trip back to her small hometown in Washington. There, she runs into her ex-boyfriend, Sean (Jay Ellis, “Insecure”), and the two reminisce about the people they were as a couple. It is not long before Ally starts to wonder if the two of them could once again have what they used to again. But, unfortunately, the fantasy is abruptly shattered when she realizes that Sean is engaged to the free-spirited singer Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons, “Sweetheart”), and worse, Ally has accidentally crashed the couple’s wedding weekend. As the festivities unfold, Ally questions her place in life as she sees more and more of her old self within Cassidy. 

The film is filled with many twists that leave audiences floundering in attempts to make accurate predictions, instead forcing them to sit back and enjoy the show.

Despite the “comedy” part of “romantic comedy,” “Somebody I Used to Know” also manages to fit moments of seriousness that feel like authentic relationships in general. 

This past week, Franco, followed by actors Brie and Ellis, met with a panel of college journalists to touch more on the film and their experiences being part of its creation. 

For Franco, “Somebody I Used to Know” has significance as the second full-length movie that the actor has written and directed. When asked how the experience differed from his usual role as an actor he said, “I felt like I had a leg up [because of acting experience] … I just love working with actors, [I] feel like I understand their mindset. [So] as a director, I really try to create these safe, comfortable environments for actors where they feel free to take risks, knowing that there’s not going to be any judgment.”

Franco’s efforts are certainly not to waste, as Ellis describes his experience filming as a lot of fun. 

“[It was] a bunch of actors coming together under a great director, who all had fun making this thing and really … took pride in ownership in our roles. [We] went out and created this fun rollercoaster of a story that also has some heart to it,” Ellis said.

When it comes to the movie feeling like a “rollercoaster,” Franco, Brie and Ellis all mentioned that “Somebody I Used to Know” takes many alternate routes to what audiences anticipate. Romantic comedies during Valentine’s season are in no shortage; many feature a cliche “serendipity is all you need” message. If “Somebody I Used to Know” is going to stand out, it has to be different.

According to Brie, she and her husband/co-writer Franco took the cliches into account when they worked on the script. 

“People can expect some surprises from this movie; it starts out like it’s going to be a rom-com [where] you think you know where the story is going. But we really tried to subvert expectation[s] … We’re taking these complex characters, putting them in these classic rom-com situations, and then showing very real human reactions,” Brie said. 

Viewers will be able to see the realism that the writers aim to portray in various recurring messages dispersed throughout the jocular plot points of the movie.

The catalyst of Ally’s trip home is the cancellation of her reality TV-series, which has been her life up until this point. The movie includes comedic scenes with actress Amy Sedaris to offset the loss’s upset. 

When Ally returns to her hometown and reconnects with Sean, the audience learns that her career aspirations ultimately led to their breakup. This underlying theme of “career vs. personal life” runs throughout the entire movie. 

According to Franco, they wanted viewers to pick up on this. 

“There’s a lot of ideas about work-life balance in the film. And I think we’re trying to say that you can have both; you don’t need to choose one or the other. And hopefully, you find someone — a partner — who understands you and will make certain sacrifices so that you can be your truest self and explore all avenues that you want to,” Franco said. “When you’re younger, you may have certain aspirations and dreams that don’t come to fruition as you get older. But [even] if you’re not necessarily content in your current situation, it’s not too late to pivot and get back to the things that made you happy.”

The idea of having a balance, rather than giving up your job for love or vice versa, is not one many rom-coms highlight, usually going instead for “all or nothing.” However, the theme gives “Somebody I Used to Know” a rarer but more realistic spin. 

In terms of continuing real-life relevancy in the messages of the movie, “Somebody I Used to Know” also provides commentary on the imperfections of real relationships through the classic love triangle trope. 

The movie covers important, non-romantic aspects of dating, and the audience gets to watch the characters learn as the movie plays out.

During the interview, Ellis said he wants to tell his character, Sean, to first take a step back and communicate. 

“You got to realize that being a partner means being supportive of someone else’s dreams as well … They can’t just be in your plan. You have to plan together and create together once you bring somebody [into] your life,” Ellis said.

This kind of mutual give-and-take relationship is not often portrayed in romantic movies, as it has many complications. The suspension of disbelief instead extends, perpetuating a romanticized version in which one person always ends up with the other, no matter the obstacles. 

Brie reflected on this idea by saying “a big theme that we’re talking about in this movie is when is it right to fight for a relationship? When is a relationship worth fighting for, and when is it worth throwing in the towel and saying, ‘you know what, I will always have a love for this person, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the right person for me.’”

Romantic comedies have been a Valentine’s Day staple  for as long as most can remember, and many of them tend to follow the same general progression. 

While it might not decrease their entertainment value, it leaves a space open for something new. 

“Somebody I Used to Know” is that something. 

From the cookie-cutter tropes of classic love stories to a director and cast who clearly put their all into making an enjoyable movie, this romantic comedy will steal the hearts of viewers everywhere.