Film: I Used to Go Here

There’s definitely something under-baked about I Used to Go Here (2020), a low-key, light comedy that gets off to a rocky start, although it does rally to score late points. Chicago-based writer Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs) is realizing her dreams: her first novel has just been released, launching her literary career. Well, except that the cover sucks, and the sales are low, and the publishing company has cancelled her book tour. Plus, she and her fiancee have just broken up. Amidst these fraught circumstances she receives a welcome call from her old professor, David Kirkpatrick (Jemaine Clement), who invites her to spend a few days at her alma mater to deliver a reading and meet his students. Desperate for a positive event and clearly recalling a past attraction to David, Kate jumps at the opportunity. But when her bed and breakfast ends up being right across the street from her old party house, the initial nostalgia is quickly overwhelmed by jaded regret. Soon she meets and befriends a number of David’s hopeful young students, which leads to unlikely small-town adventures, but also an uncomfortable confrontation with the promise of her past and the disappointing reality of her present.

I Used to Go Here starts clumsily, and its chief drawback is that its isn’t entirely convincing. This isn’t the fault of Jacobs, who is characteristically appealing in the lead. The script, though, appears to have only passing familiarity with the publishing industry and academia; in particular, scenes that center on writing craft don’t feel authentic. Eventually, Kate’s you-can’t-go-home-again journey gains some traction as she builds an unexpected rapport with the students played by Hannah Marks, Josh Wiggins, Forrest Goodluck, Khloe Jannel, and Brandon Daley. Down the home stretch, the unlikely small-town hijinks do eventually build to a strong theme about coping with fallen dreams and professional disillusionment. That sad message resonates well, nicely executed and not without hope, but the humor’s too mild and sporadic to elevate the piece much beyond its pleasant surface.

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