Finally, single career-focused women get a rom-com to themselves, sans judgment. In the era of Taylor Swift’s “Midnights,” SZA’s “SOS,” and Emily Henry’s novel “Book Lovers,” it’s clear that 2023 is the year of women not apologizing for their relationship statuses, nor being neatly regulated to peppy Band-Aids like Galentine’s Day to soften the blow of the annual lovefest coupledom that is Valentine’s Day. But it’s not St. Valentine’s fault: It’s ours for ignoring self-love as the crux of V-Day.
Thankfully, Alison Brie and Dave Franco have continued the unapologetic, workaholic single woman trend with “Somebody I Used to Know.” Don’t let the trailer nor first act fool you: This is a distinctly empowered subversion on “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and fellow rom-coms that came before it. (Yes, even that Julia Roberts’ classic is name-checked in the film once audiences recognize the beat-for-beat rhythm of a woman determined to ruin a wedding.)
“Somebody I Used to Know” begins at what usually is the third act of a standard rom-com. Ally (Brie) chose her TV producer career over her hometown love Sean (Jay Ellis) and is flying back home after losing a reality show gig and questioning her life choices now that she’s thirtysomething and romantically alone. While on the surface that may seem like “Somebody” is already falling into the classic rom-com career woman tropes, Ally doesn’t solely think of Sean as her biggest regret, and nor do they immediately get together upon her landing in her German-settled town where “it’s always Christmas,” as she quips.
The first twist: Ally hasn’t spoken to Sean in over a decade since their split, and it’s Sean who seeks out local celebrity Ally at a pub to catch up for old time’s sake. After spending all night revisiting their own haunts and gorging on melted cheese shots, Ally sees if Sean would be into a casual hook-up. Yet Sean strategically leaves out that he’s engaged…a fact Ally only learns once she puts on her best Ann Taylor Loft blouse and knocks on the door of Sean’s parents’ house the next day.
Ally becomes immediately ingrained in Sean’s upcoming nuptials to his younger bride Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons), whose devil-may-care nature reminds Ally of her own aspirations in her twenties. Cassidy is the lead singer of a Seattle-based punk band, but she’s grappling with stepping away from touring to be Sean’s picture perfect wife and start making a domestic life together. Ally, with the mind of an “UnReal” reality producer, quickly identifies the fraying seam at which to tug at to inevitably unravel Cassidy and Sean’s bliss.
Sean becomes Ally’s obsession and project, with her determined to dredge up dirt and drama on his bride Cassidy, whose bisexuality turns out to have estranged her from her homophobic parents. Bingo, according to Ally. Invite them to the wedding and mayhem will ensue! It’s not so much that Ally wants Sean back, she just needs something to focus on, manipulate, and conquer. Plus, a nostalgic literal walk down memory lane soothes her career-focused mind for the time being.
“You’re not going to pull some Julia Roberts, ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ type shit are you?,” Cassidy asks Ally at one point, perfectly timed with the realization that yes, that’s exactly what Ally is doing. It’s easier for Ally to hide behind questioning if her ex Sean was “the one” instead of facing the harder truth: she has pivoted her own career so much that she’s strayed from what really makes her happy, being a documentary filmmaker.
Later, Sean complains that Ally “wasted” her past decade choosing the “wrong thing” and ultimately undermining her professional success. “This is classic you,” Sean snaps at Ally, who told him her show was renewed. “Go back to your sad, pathetic little game show. … That’s your whole life. None of it’s real.”
Now this is the moment in which the film can either reward Sean for his outspokenness (à la fellow coming-home career woman rom-com “Sweet Home Alabama) or this is where “Somebody I Used to Know” proves that this is not a film that we already used to know. Instead, this is that kind of movie, one that is just fine blowing everything up. Suddenly, Ally encouraging Cassidy to follow her dreams of taking her punk band on the road isn’t for nefarious purposes: It’s a warning sign that men like Sean will always think — and therefore stay — small. Sean wants control and order. Seans does not a partner, he wants a wife. What’s next takes the film in fresh new directions.
Brie and real-life husband Franco co-wrote the script together, with Franco also directing. Brie’s latest screenwriting credits also include #MeToo dark comedy “Spin Me Round” starring Aubrey Plaza and “Horse Girl,” both of which she wrote with Jeff Baena. While Brie told IndieWire that she tapped into her personal dating exploits for last year’s “Spin Me Round,” it’s clear that “Somebody I Used to Know” has a personal hinge to both Brie and Franco. It’s also surprising for a couple to conclude a rom-com with the fact that sometimes it’s better to be alone than with the wrong person, or even wrong career.
Ellis fumbles a bit as Sean, but is just charming enough for us to think that maybe Sean really doesn’t know how manipulative he’s being. Haley Joel Osment provides comic relief (and a well-time Brendan Fraser shoutout) as Sean’s adoptive brother, with Amy Sedaris, Zoe Chao, Sam Richardson, Olga Merediz, and Jeanine Jackson giving a signature warmth to their roles.
“Somebody I Used to Know” doesn’t chalk up a failed relationship to circumstance or even bad choices. It’s simply the respectful endurance of love even though that person may not be “the one.” With the film coming out right before Valentine’s Day, and immediately placing among the best break-up movies of all time, it packs one of the best takeaways we’ve got this year: To all the women wondering what if, stop, he wasn’t the one for you.
“Somebody I Used to Know” starts streaming on Prime Video on Friday, February 10.