35-year-old writer Kate (Gillian Jacobs) is supposed to be celebrating the publication of her debut novel, but instead learns that her book tour has been cancelled. Still mourning her broken engagement, Kate is one of the few women in her peer group who hasn’t settled down. This is shown when she is forced to line up at a baby shower, but instead of cradling a baby bump, she has to hold up her book with a front cover she hates. The movie marks the fourth feature from writer-director Kris Rey (formally Kris Swanberg), whose prior work includes Sundance hit Unexpected and It Was Great, But I Was Ready To Go Home.
She is relieved when she gets a phone call from her old college writing professor David Kirkpatrick (Jemaine Clement). She is still harbouring her college crush for him, despite him being unhappily married to a woman more age-appropriate. The #MeToo movement hasn’t quite caught up to the professor-student relationship on American college campuses, nor has it caught up with this movie. Clement is wonderfully smarmy yet incredibly wasted as the English professor who is a little too keen to offer extra help to the pretty students in his class after-hours.
Kate is generally glad to be back on Carbondale campus, a small mid-town cocoon and probably the last time she felt safe. Whilst in New York she isn’t considered a success, in the little microcosm of campus life she is “an actual writer”. Kate is a flat and one-dimensional lead, especially compared to some of the fantastic female voices recently seen on the big and small screen (Fleabag, Obvious Child, Broad City and Girls, just to name a few). She walks around flirting with inappropriate young men, pining for her ex-fiancé and apologising for her own failures. It’s not exactly the most forward-thinking portrayal of a leading female character.
The school puts her up on a bed and breakfast across the road from the house she stayed in whilst studying. She can’t help but visit her old home, reminiscing over when times were simpler. She makes friends with the current tenants, which includes the cute Hugo (Josh Wiggins) who unfortunately comes with a girlfriend, April (Hannah Marks). April is a threat to Kate, she’s young and beautiful, a fantastic writer who is looking to set up her own publishers and appears to be in a relationship with the cutest guy on campus. Rey is smart enough to not make April the stereotypical sex kitten, nor is she the snooty patronising class swot. Marks perfectly pitches April as that hard-working and naturally gifted student we all hated in college out of pure jealousy and nothing else.
When she’s not finding excuses to text her bland one-dimensional ex, she demeans herself by having drinks with a former classmate (Jorma Taccone, who produced the film alongside his Lonely Island partners Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer). Aside from the constant joke that he is called Bradley Cooper, is does very little to move Kate’s story along. Perhaps if this was a miniseries, these little skits into her past life would feel more relevant and less like time-wasting.
I Used to Go Here frequently struggles in tone. Generally, it’s a soft and thoughtful piece on nostalgia, plodding through life like the lead character has done post-graduation. The section where Kate and the tenants of her campus home go on a Superbad-esque caper to find out if a professor is having an affair with a student is especially jarring. It feels like the writer-director felt the need to add a little comedy to appeal for the Booksmart audience, when really this was made for fans of Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants).
Whilst I Used to Go Here asks thorny questions about hypocrisy, consent and professor-student relationships, but it doesn’t offer them with a deep answer nor any stinging comic observations in response. There’s a funnier version of nearly every joke and there is a heart-breaking poignancy that frequently is skimmed over, which ultimately makes for a rather tame final film.
I Used to go Here will be available on VOD from September 14th
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy