We all reach a point where the hope and excitement that surrounded our early career fades. This process is not only profoundly uncomfortable but also, downright unfair as the veneer of youth fades. The realisation that life is quite mundane and boring wrapped up in changing friendships and a need for security. These changes are even more pronounced for those of us who remain single, as we are surrounded by couples who slowly forget our existence. And for women, this feeling can be multiplied by close friends starting a family; no longer having time for the friendships they once nurtured. Of course, this all sounds rather bleak; but thankfully it is merely a transition to a new sense of self and belonging. And it is here where Kris Rey’s I Used to Go Here hits its stride with a smart, delicate yet distinctive film.
Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs) has recently ended a relationship with her fiancé, the scars still haunting her daily routines. Meanwhile, her first-ever fiction novel has just reached bookstore shelves. However, the book is not performing well; in fact, her publishers have cancelled a proposed book tour. While at the same time her friends busily start families of their own, with Kate feeling a mere ghost during get-togethers. But, despite all this, a glimmer of light appears courtesy of her former university professor David (Jemaine Clement). His reason for calling her, an invite back to her old University. Kate’s recently published book heralding a weekend visit and talk with creative writing students.
Kate excitedly accepts the offer, her student crush on her old professor once again entering her mind. And as she arrives on campus, the nostalgia of her past student life overflows. Her feelings of comfort only enhanced when she meets a group of aspiring young writers living in her old house. With Hugo (Josh Wiggins), Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley), Animal (Forrest Goodluck) and Animal’s girlfriend Emma (Khloe Janel) all welcoming Kate into their fold. The University, its students and secrets still holding valuable lessons for a thirty-something woman looking for a new beginning.
There is a raw honesty in Kate’s journey that rarely makes it to the screen in back to college comedy-dramas. The hopes, dreams and aspirations of youth tarnished by the experience of a life where nothing has panned out quite as expected. This makes Kate’s journey not only relatable but also understandable. The need to revisit the past in identifying the future sitting firmly at the heart of her story.
But, what makes I Used to Go Here both smart and distinctive is the ability to wrap these emotions in a light-hearted, fresh and engaging comedy/drama that never falls into lazy stereotypes or cliches. With the students at the centre of Kates rebirth and discovery, approachable, sensitive and vibrant. The usual cliches of sex-fuelled parties and heavy drinking, replaced with something far more honest in its reflection of student life. With Wiggins, Daley, Goodluck and Janel all encapsulating the energy, optimism and doubt of youth. Alongside a screenplay that (in part) mirrors and pays homage to the late, great John Hughes.
However, the success of I Used to Go Here sits firmly in the hands of Gillian Jacobs, who ensures Kate is both relatable and believable. With a performance that sings with sincerity while never forgetting the films comedic roots. The confusion, anger and hurt of her character, held firmly behind a bubbly exterior that is only breached in the latter stages of the film. As the glow of nostalgia is suddenly broken by the reality that life has to move forward and not back.
While I Used to Go Here never quite reaches the heights of its initial promise, it does offer a delightful, delicate, humorous and open journey. One that understands the fear of growing older, the trepidation of being alone, and the spectre of failure. While at the same time highlighting the need to learn from our past, but not consider it to be the answer to our present problems.
Director: Kris Rey