The afternoon following an early screening of their newest movie, Somebody I Used to Know, writer–director Dave Franco and writer–lead actress Alison Brie crammed themselves and ten college kids around a small round table in a room on 19th Street. An interview with college journalists in the Philadelphia area was pretty different from the rest of the press junket the husband and wife duo have been attending; we didn’t make them read thirst tweets, for one thing. But Brie and Franco were full of smiles, well–spoken commentary about their movie and their careers, and good advice.
Though the two wrote Somebody I Used to Know together, both of them have highly esteemed acting backgrounds. You may know Franco from 21 Jump Street or Now You See Me, and you probably recognize Brie from her role as Annie Edison on cult–loved TV show Community (her co–star from the show, Danny Pudi, plays her character’s best friend in Somebody I Used to Know, and their offscreen friendship is palpable) or recognize her voice from BoJack Horseman. And though the pair may only have a few writing credits under their belts, this isn’t the first time the two have worked together on a project. Franco’s directorial debut was The Rental, a movie in which Brie starred. With Somebody I Used To Know, however, the pair tackle and twist a genre even more storied and nuanced than horror: the rom–com.
The movie, in an almost Hallmark–like rom–com tradition, follows Ally, a high–strung, successful career woman who has sold her soul and her documentary–making dream to Hollywood; either way, she has an admittedly successful (but about–to–be–canceled) reality cooking program to show for it. Ally decides to return to her hometown, where she forgoes spending time with her very sexually active mother (played by Julie Hagerty) to catch up with her ex, Sean (played by Jay Ellis). She chats with him, she kisses him, and she finds out he’s getting married this weekend to a younger, cooler, punker girl: Cassidy (played by Kiersey Clemons). What follows is less traditional rom–com and more, as Brie and Franco put it, "adult coming of age."
The two were quick to express how important it was for them to play within but also break the rules of the rom–com that we all know and crazily, stupidly love. “I think our intention with everything that we do is to try and bring something new to the table, to try and do something that you haven’t seen before,” said Franco. “And that doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel.”
“You gotta know the rules to break the rules,” Brie agreed. “We took that as a challenge, like, 'Okay, can we make something that is, at the same time, an ode to the rom–com genre and also sort of the anti–rom–com at the same time?'” They do so to compelling effect with Ally’s relationship to Cassidy, a woman who, in any other movie, might be labeled the “rival” or “villain” character. Instead of painting her as either shrew or victim, however, Somebody I Used to Know lets her be just another person, a nuance not seen in many rom–coms. Not only that, but the movie's title is, in a way, about Ally’s relationship with Cassidy, as Cassidy reminds Ally of a certain someone she used to know: her younger self.
Other than playing with the rom–com formula, the pair answered questions about two other important facets of their life that played into creating the film—Judaism and music. Both Brie and Franco are Jewish, and they laughed about basing the mother characters, at times overbearing but ultimately doting, on their own Jewish mothers. “I don’t think [Jewish culture] is something we’ve thought about when we’re making our work,” she mused. But, she said, “Now that I’m putting that into context, we do sort of have a lot of that in this movie, which is about these families [and] the closeness that these people all feel together.”
Music held an important place in Somebody I Used to Know, in its creators’ lives, and in their relationship. “Third Eye Blind was my band in high school,” Franco reminisced. Their music has a place in the movie: One of Ally’s quirks is that she’s ready to freestyle a parody song at the drop of a hat, and she does so to great effect to a Third Eye Blind song—while toasting her ex’s new love. Brie pointed out that when Ally reconnects with Sean for the first time, an Alabama Shakes song is playing in the background, pertinent to Brie and Franco’s life in that “[their] song, romantically”, as she put it, is “I Found You.” (For a more in–depth look at the music of the movie, be sure to check out WQHS’ review of Somebody I Used to Know, its score, and its creators’ musings on the score.)
At the end of the movie, Ally decides that slogging through an unsatisfying job of running a vapid reality TV show isn’t something she’s going to put up with anymore, and she hands the duties off to someone who actually wants to do it. She drops everything to pursue a documentary on nudism, which is exactly the sort of video she’d been wanting to make all along since going into film (and something that arguably pertains personally to Brie’s life as well). She decides that now is as good a time as any to really start her life—and so she does.
Similarly, Brie and Franco talked about the movie’s message as it relates to the lives of the panel of college journalists scribbling notes around them. “Just start making things!” encouraged Franco. Ally did, and so can anyone else. “You start out young, taking risks and kind of doing it for the love of the game, and then when you get a little success, a little bit of fear creeps in,” admitted Brie. “[Getting] on the other side of the camera, it has been to kind of shake things up again, take some risks, and kind of remind ourselves why we love what we do.”
Somebody I Used to Know is streaming now on Amazon Prime.