The indie film scene is over-saturated with stories of arrested development following the coming of age genre’s transforming into a festival staple. Where some films imbue the familiar framework with a fresh spin and a finite point of view (2019’s Blinded by the Light), many fail to strike a genuine chord in their hackneyed execution (2019’s Unicorn Store). The latest iteration I Used to Go Here may not reinvent the genre’s traditional approach, but it still offers a pleasant and emotionally sincere diversion.
I Used to Go Here follows Kate (Gillian Jacobs) an unfulfilled writer whose first book is released to tepid reviews. After her former professor David (Jemaine Clement) invites her to speak at her alma matter, Kate begins to re-discover the joys of college when she befriends a group of eclectic college students.
If audiences are to take anything away from I Used to Go Here’s runtime, its the radiant ability of star Gillian Jacobs. Despite displaying a career of well-rounded performances (on the big-screen in Don’t Think Twice and in TV shows like Love), Jacob’s natural talent still rarely gets the spotlight it deserves. As Kate, she effortlessly emanates an instant warmth and vulnerability onscreen, adding some much-needed humanity to the character’s common design while mining some of the film’s funniest bits from her sly delivery. Jemaine Clement is a welcomed addition as Kate’s jaded, cocksure professor, while Zoe Chao, Josh Wiggins, and Brandon Daley infuse some exuberance into their comedic roles.
Mumblecore stalwart Kris Rey adeptly takes a new step forward in her writer/director career, redefining the subgenera’s low-key appeal with some dynamic traits. Rey’s screenplay operates effectively as an honest examination of our rose-tinted glasses towards days of youth, taking to task the figures we glorify as idealistic role models despite their innate flaws. She also finds a comfortable comedic rhythm from distinctly uncomfortable moments, wisely utilizing specified memories (whether that be an awkward old flame played by Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone or an over-eager college worker tasked with fulfilling Kate’s whims and desires) to paint a lived-in landscape.
I Used to Go Here has an innate charm, but its dramatic aspirations feel too slight to register. Rey’s final frames offer a refreshingly honest self-examination for Kate, whose ambitions have gone astray in the pursuit of industry defined success. This clever construct sadly doesn’t get the attention it deserves, with Rey’s script exploring the easy-going splendors of old-school hangout movies rather than digging deeply into its dramatic implications (the barely 80-minute runtime could’ve utilized a more elaborate third act). I also don’t think the film does enough to stand out from its like-minded coming of age peers, with the narrative never finding its own voice to transcend the genre’s formula.
No one will praise I Used to Go Here for its originality, but writer/director Kris Rey and star Gillian Jacobs make a winning team in their assured portrait of millennial milieu [B-].
Written by Matt Conway