Review: I USED TO GO HERE, The Lure of Familiar Comfort
I recently read a terrific article from McSweeney's (a satirical website), entitled 'Quiz: Do You Want to Go To Grad School or Do You Just Need a Snack?" While there are days when I wonder why, oh why, did I spent six years (and many, many dollars) getting graduate degrees, there are times when I miss, what I often remember, as a safe and comforting environment, one where I seemed to dazzle everything with everything I did, and it was easier to push myself forward, to take what I thought were grand risks. Maybe I assumed too much of what would happen on the other side.
In Rey's latest feature, a 30-something woman finds herself, in what should be the biggest year of her life, mired in disappoinment, and ready to run back to the familiar to keep herself from what she sees as more failures. I Used to Go Here is an understated and subtle tale, one that examines the broken promises gives fed to the millenial generation, and how they have to figure out putting the pieces back together.
This should be a great year for Kate (Gillian Jacobs), except that nothing is working out as it should: her first published novel (with a terrible cover) is getting such poor inital sales and reviews, her publisher has cancelled the book tour. She and her fiancé have split up, and he won't answer her calls. Three of her closest friends are all pregnant. And now, Kate is stuck with invitations to an event that's not happening, a half-empty apartment, and a book soon to be gathering dust. The highs never appeared, and now she's falling pretty low.
Then she gets a call from her former professor and mentor David (Jemaine Clement), who invites her to give a reading at her old university, and meet with creative writing students. She welcomes the brief respite, finding herself at a B&B across the street from her old house, bonding with David again (though maybe not his somewhat annoyed wife), meeting students, and finding herself getting cozy, as she can both hang with these young people, and at the same time be somewhat revered by them.
Jacobs is really coming into her own as an actor; she takes what could be the one-dimensional manic pixie dream girl type, and turns her into an adult who lost at a crossroads, making some honest but serious mistakes, not unkind but lost in herself; somewhat self-absorbed but ready to be there for her friends at a moment's notice. Kate is anyone who's felt themselves drawn back to a place where they felt their status was better, their life was safer, and there were risks to be taken with little or no consequences.
Rey deftly avoids a lot of cliches that would normally permeate a 'back-to-school' narrative, and places it squarely in the here and now. When Kate finds a 'crew' of students to hang out with, the age difference is both relevant and unimportant. Her age doesn't mean she has any more wisdom to impart on life's problems, and and their age doesn't mean she can't relate to them. The third act lightly-criminal activity they engage in is a delight to watch. Rey writes great supporting characters, and casts great supporting actors. Clement finds the perfest balance of cool and creepy in his professor who maybe has his own jealousy of Kate, while Hannah Marks is great as Kate's object of jealousy, the ambitious and talented young woman Kate worries that she used to be, and has let disappear.
I Used to Go Here asks its questions between the lines, as Kate figures out what she needs to do and wants to be in the breathes between statements, and those moments when she is forced to look at what she has managed to accomplish, and what she still needs to do. It's an understated and smart film that finds a new way, and new views, on a familiar road.