Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,’ starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis and Britain Dalton

December 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldaña, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss and Sam Worthington in “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Avatar: The Way of Water”

Directed by James Cameron

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and on the fictional planet of Pandora, the sci-fi action film “Avatar: The Way of Water” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) portraying humans and non-humans.

Culture Clash: Jake Sully and Neytiri, the heroes of 2009’s “Avatar,” are now the leaders of the Omatikaya clan on Pandora, but Jake becomes the target of revenge for being a traitor to Earth, so he and his family escape to live with another clan on Pandora, with an old enemy in pursuit. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Avatar” fans, “Avatar: The Way of Water” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a top-notch sci-fi film.

Sam Worthington, Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis in “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has set the bar even higher for sci-fi epics. The movie’s technical achievements and story surpass the first “Avatar” film. Expect to be immersed in a visually stunning world that has a lot to say about protection of families and the environment. At 192 minutes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a more than worth the time of anyone who wants to be entertained for a little more than three hours by a magnificent achievement in sci-fi cinema.

Directed by James Cameron, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that is fully appreciated if viewers have seen or know about what happened in 2009’s Oscar-winning blockbuster “Avatar,” which was also directed by Cameron. Mild spoiler alert for those who haven’t the first “Avatar” movie, which took place in the year 2154: The movie’s main hero, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), a wheelchair-using U.S. Marine, was assigned to be a bodyguard for Dr. Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver), the leader of the Avatar Program that gives the ability for humans to appear in the form of something else.

Jake defied the government’s plan for military people to disguise themselves as Pandora natives call the Na’vi, in order to deplete the moon planet of Pandora (located in the Alpha Centauri system) for the precious resource unobtanium. Na’vi people are a humanoid species with blue skin, and the average Na’vi adults are about 10 feet tall. At the end of the first “Avatar” movie, Jake left behind his human life on Earth to become a Na’vi.

At the beginning of “Avatar: The Way of Water” (whose screenplay was written by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver), it is about 15 years after the first movie took place. Jake (who has fully inhabited his Na’vi body) has been happily married to Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldaña), the female Na’vi who saved his life in the first “Avatar” movie. Jake and Neytiri fell in love in the first “Avatar” movie. They now live on Pandora, where Jake is the leader of the Omatikaya clan, which lives and thrives in the forest.

Jake and Neytiri are now parents to four children: teenage son Neteyam (played by Jamie Flatters) is the “role model” eldest child; teenage son Lo’ak (played by Britain Dalton) is slightly rebellious and living in the shadow of Neteyam; adopted teenage daughter Kiri (played by Weaver) is haunted by the memories of her biological mother; and pre-teen daughter Tuk (played by Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) is friendly and playful. The four Sully kids are very close to a human named Spider (played by Jack Champion), who was orphaned by the war between the Na’vi and humans.

The movie later reveals Spider’s family background and who one of his biological parents is. Spider spends so much time with the Sully kids that he’s almost like part of the family. However, Neytiri is nervous and wary about Spider becoming so close to the kids because she doesn’t completely trust humans, who are called Sky People by the Na’vi. The humans were responsible for nearly destroying Neytiri’s family in the first “Avatar” movie. One of the survivors was Neytiri’s mother Mo’at (played by CCH Pounder), who makes a brief appearance in “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Kiri’s origins are revealed near the beginning of the movie: She was created from the DNA of Dr. Augustine. Mild spoiler alert for those who don’t know what happened in the first “Avatar” movie: Dr. Augustine died in the first “Avatar” movie, but she makes an appearance in flashbacks in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Throughout the movie, Kiri feels a psychic connection to that is both confusing and comforting to Kiri.

In the first “Avatar” movie, the U.S. government’s Resources Development Administration (RDA) was in charge of raiding Pandora for unobtanium because resources on Earth have diminished. The RDA still exists in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and they consider Jake to be a traitorous enemy because of what happened in the first “Avatar” movie. As described in the “Avatar: The Way of Water” production notes: “In addition to having an armada of weaponized land, air and sea vehicles at their disposal, the RDA has brought with them a secret weapon: an elite team of soldiers resurrected as recombinants (recoms). Recoms are autonomous avatars embedded with the memories of the humans whose DNA was used to create them.”

This group of recom soldiers has been tasked with one primary mission: find and kill Jake. The leader of this mission is Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang), the avatar of the human Colonel Miles Quaritch (also played by Lang), who was head of RDA’s security force and Jake’s biggest adversary in the first “Avatar” movie. During this mission, the recom soldiers appear in the form of Na’vi when they go to Pandora to hunt down Jake.

Through a series of circumstances, the Sully family is are forced to leave their home. They flee to another part of Pandora, where they are taken in as refugees by the green-skinned Metkayina clan. Whereas the forest is the primary domain of the Omatikaya clan, the ocean is the primary domain of the Metkayina clan, which reluctantly lets the Sully family live with them because it’s a Na’vi tradition to help refugees of Pandora.

The leaders of the Metkayina clan are upstanding and fair-minded Tonowari (Cliff Curtis). and his compassionate wife Ronal (played by Kate Winslet), who is pregnant when this story takes place. Ronal and Tonowari tell their teenage children—daughter Tsireya (played by Bailey Bass) and older son Aonung (played by Filip Geljo)—to attempt to teach the Sully kids how to adapt to the clan’s water activities, customs and traditions. Aonung is somewhat hostile to these newcomers, while Tsireya is welcoming.

Tsireya and Lo’ak have an immediate “attraction at first sight” the first time that they meet each other. It leads to some romantic moments but also some tensions, particularly from Aonung, who clashes with and bullies Lo’ak during much of the story. The residents of Pandora have much bigger problems though, when Recom Colonel Miles Quaritch and his marauding team of soldiers invade Pandora in their hunt for Jake.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” has some of the most eye-popping and gorgeous visuals (especially the underwater scenes) that movie audiences will ever see in a sci-fi movie. In addition to the movie’s visual effects, “Avatar: The Way of Water’s” enchanting cinematography and production design are particularly noteworthy. “Avatar: The Way of Water” also has emotionally impactful stories about the connections that humans and humanoids can develop with other animals. And just like in the first “Avatar” movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water” has a very pro-environment message that isn’t preachy but is presented in a way that serves as a warning of what could happen when a planet’s inhabitants don’t take care of their planet.

The majority of the cast members in “Avatar: The Way of Water” do not appear in human form, due to visual effects, so their acting is on par with similar big-budget movies that use visual effects to alter the appearance of the cast members. However, Weaver (as Kiri) and Dalton have some standout moments as children who feel like misfits in their family and who feel like they have something to prove about their worth in their family. Champion’s portrayal of Spider is also admirable, because Spider goes through his own issues dealing with self-esteem, identity and family loyalty.

Other characters in “Avatar: The Way of Water” include General Ardmore (played by Edie Falco), a ruthless official from RDA; Captain Mick Scoresby (played by Brendan Cowell) and Dr. Ian Garvin (played by Jemaine Clement), who are recruited by RDA to help track down Jake and find more unobtanium; and scientists Dr. Norm Spellman (played by Joel David Moore) and Dr. Max Patel (played by Dileep Rao), who were allies to Jake in the first “Avatar” movie.

The “Avatar” universe is best experienced from the beginning to fully understand the nuances and developments of “Avatar: The Way of Water” and other “Avatar” sequels. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a movie that has Oscar-worthy technical prowess, but the dialogue is a little on the simplistic and generic side. What the movie lacks in dazzling dialogue it more than makes up for in delivering a poignant, thrilling and entertaining story with a big heart that viewers will want to revisit.

20th Century Studios will release “Avatar: The Way of Water” in U.S. cinemas on December 16, 2022.

Review: ‘DC League of Super-Pets,’ starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart

July 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer), Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), Chip (voiced by Diego Luna) and Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“DC League of Super-Pets”

Directed by Jared Stern; co-directed by Sam Levine

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional city of Metropolis, the animated film “DC League of Super-Pets” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals, superheroes and citizens of Metropolis.

Culture Clash: Inspired by DC Comics characters, “DC League of Super-Pets” features a group of domesticated pets, including Superman’s dog Krypto, fighting crime and trying to save the world from an evil guinea pig that is loyal to supervillain Lex Luthor.

Culture Audience: “DC League of Super-Pets” will appeal primarily to fans of DC Comics, the movie’s cast members and adventure-filled animated movies centered on talking animals.

Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Even though “DC League of Super-Pets” sometimes gets cluttered with subplots and characters, this animated film is a treat that has a winning combination of pets and superheroes. There’s plenty to like for people of many ages. In addition to the appeal of having familiar characters from DC Comics, “DC League of Super-Pets” is a well-cast film for its voice actors, because the cast members bring their own unique flairs to the characters. It’s helpful but not necessary to have knowledge of DC Comics characters before watching this movie.

Directed by Jared Stern and co-directed by Sam Levine, “DC League of Super-Pets” makes good use of mixing zany comedy, engaging action and some heartwarming and touching moments. Stern makes his feature-film directorial debut with “DC League of Super-Pets,” which he co-wrote with John Whittington. Stern and Whittington also co-wrote 2017’s “The Lego Batman Movie.” Where “DC League of Super-Pets” falters is when it tries to cram in certain plot developments to the point where “DC League of Super-Pets” comes dangerously close to biting off more than it can chew. (No pun intended.)

If you have no interest in watching an animated movie about pets and would-be pets of superheroes, then “DC League of Super-Pets” probably is not for you. The world already has more than enough animated films about talking animals. However, “DC League of Super-Pets” mostly succeeds at being entertaining when putting comic book characters in a predictable but dependable story of a group of misfits that become friends while trying to save the world.

“DC League of Super-Pets” begins by showing how Superman (whose birth name is Kal-El) ended up with his loyal Labrador Retriever dog Krypto. Kal-El was born on the planet Krypton. When he was a baby, Krypton went under attack, so his parents put Kal-El on a spaceship alone and sent him to Earth for his safety. Kal-El’s parents Jor-El (voiced by Alfred Molina) and Lara (voiced by Lena Headey) say their emotional goodbye to Kal-El.

Jor-El says, “Krypton is about to die.” Lara adds, “But you, dear son, will live on.” Suddenly, the family’s Labrador Retriever puppy jumps on the spaceship with Kal-El. At first, Jor-El wants to try to get the dog back, but the space ship has already been set in motion. Lara tells Jor-El: “Our boy will need a friend.” Jor-El says to the dog: “Watch over our son.”

Years later, Kal-El is now an adult living in the big city of Metropolis under the name Clark Kent. He’s a bachelor who works as a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, but Clark Kent is an alter ego to his secret identity: a superhero named Superman (voiced by John Krasinski), who has super-strength, X-ray vision and the ability to fly. The dog, named Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), is still his loyal companion and knows about the secret life of Superman, because Krypto often fights crime alongside Superman.

Krypto has superpowers that are the same as Superman’s superpowers. And they both have the same weakness: an energy force called kryptonite that can drain their superpowers. Krypto and Superman are a lot alike, when it comes to how they view crime and justice. However, Superman and Krypto are very different when it comes to adapting to life on Earth: Superman/Clark Kent is social with humans, while Kypto is very aloof with other pets on Earth.

An early scene in the movie shows Krypto trying to get Superman to wake up because Krypto wants to go for a walk. But “walking the dog” for Superman really means “flying through the air with the dog.” Krypto often leads the way on the leash. The Metropolis in “DC League of Super-Pets” is designed to look like a modern, well-kept city with many tall buildings, just like in the comic books.

In this version of Metropolis, Superman is such a familiar sight, no one really thinks it’s unusual to see Superman in a park with his dog Krypto. It’s during one of these park outings that Krypto sees that things at home will soon change for Superman and Krypto. Superman/Clark Kent and his Daily Planet journalist co-worker Lois Lane (voiced by Olivia Wilde) are very much in love, and they meet at the park for a date. They show lovey-dovey public displays of affection, much to Krypto’s dismay.

The relationship between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois has gotten serious enough where it looks like this couple could be headed toward marriage. Krypto is jealous and fearful that Superman/Clark Kent will no longer have the time and attention for Krypto if Lois moves in with them. Krypto doesn’t dislike Lois. Krypto just sees her as a threat to the comfortable existence he has always known with Superman/Clark Kent.

As Krypto worries about how his home life will change if Lois moves in, some other pets in Metropolis are worried if they’ll ever have a permanent home. At an animal shelter called Tailhuggers, several pets are up for adoption, but so far, they have no takers. The shelter is run by a bachelorette named Patty (voiced by Yvette Nicole Brown), who is very kind to the pets and keeps them under vigilant protection.

Brash and sarcastic hound dog Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) is the leader of the shelter pets. Other animals at the shelter are elderly turtle Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), cheerful pig PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer) and nervous squirrel Chip (voiced by Diego Luna), who are Ace’s closest friends at the shelter. Also at the shelter is a cat name Whiskers (voiced by Winona Bradshaw), whose loyalty to the shelter pets is later tested.

Ace is anxious to run away from the shelter and is constantly plotting his escape. He tells his animal shelter friends that he knows of a paradise-like farm upstate where they can all go to live freely. One day, Ace actually manages to run away from the shelter, but he doesn’t go far. He’s literally stopped in his tracks by “law and order” Krypto, who uses his superpowers to freeze Ace’s legs to the sidewalk when he sees that Ace is a runaway shelter dog. Needless to say, Ace and Krypto clash with each other the first time that they meet.

Meanwhile, Superman has a crime-fighting incident where he summons the help of his Justice League superhero colleagues: Batman (voiced by Keanu Reeves), Wonder Woman (voiced by Jamila Jamil), Aquaman (voiced by Jemaine Clement), Green Lantern (voiced by Dascha Polanco), The Flash (voiced by John Early) and Cyborg (voiced by Daveed Diggs). Through a series of incidents, all of these superheroes are captured by billionaire supervillain (and longtime Superman nemesis) Lex Luthor (voiced by Marc Maron), who is keeping his captives hidden in a secret lair. Lex also has a cynical assistant named Mercy Graves (voiced by Maya Erksine), who isn’t in the movie as much as she could have been. Mercy’s screen time is less than five minutes.

All of that would be enough of a plot for this movie, but “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a plot about a devious guinea pig named Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon), who manages to escape from a Lex Luthor-owned scientific lab that was experimenting on guinea pigs. Somehow, Lulu gets ahold of orange kryptonite (she’s immune to kryptonite), she develops telekinesis powers, and goes on a mission to prove her loyalty to Lex by trying to destroy the Justice League.

Lulu has an army of former lab guinea pigs to do her bidding. Two of Lulu’s most loyal of these accomplices are mutant guinea pigs that also have newfound superpowers: Mark (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is fiery red and can shoot flames, while Keith (voiced by Thomas Middleditch) is ice-blue and has the ability to freeze things. Lulu also has a plot to (cliché alert) take over the world.

It should come as no surprise that Krypto ends up joining forces with Ace, Merton, PB and Chip to try to save the Justice League and save the world. During the course of the story, certain superpowers are gained, lost and possibly gained again for certain characters. Viewers of “DC League of Super-Pets” should not expect the Justice League superheroes and Lex Luthor to get a lot of screen time, because the movie is more about the pets.

Lulu’s revenge plot gets a little convoluted, but not so confusing that very young children won’t be able to understand. The movie has the expected high-energy antics, with animation and visual effects that aren’t groundbreaking but are aesthetically pleasing on almost every level. Once viewers get used to all the characters that are quickly introduced in the movie, it makes “DC League of Super-Pets” more enjoyable.

The movie has some recurring jokes, such as self-referencing all the movies and licensing deals that come from comic-book superheroes. “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a running gag of guinea pig Lulu being insulted when she’s often misidentified as a hamster. After one such misidentification, Lulu snarls, “A hamster is just a dollar-store gerbil!”

Lulu has some of the funniest lines in the movie. When she sees the DC League of Super-Pets together, she makes this snarky comment: “What is this? PAW Patrol?” And even though Batman isn’t in the movie for a lot of time, he also has some memorable one-liners, which he delivers in a deadpan manner.

It soon becomes obvious that these Super-Pets have another purpose besides saving the world: Each pet will be paired with a Justice League superhero. PB is a big fan of Wonder Woman. This star-struck pig thinks that Wonder Woman has the confidence and independent spirit that PB thinks is lacking in PB’s own personality.

Turtles are known for walking slow, so it should come as no surprise that Merton admires The Flash, whose known for his superpower of lightning-fast speed. Ace sees himself as an “alpha male” who strikes out on his own when he has to do so, which makes Batman a kindred spirit. Chip is attracted to the fearlessness of Green Lantern. As for Aquaman and Cyborg, it’s shown at the end of the movie which pets will be paired with them.

Amid the action and comedy, “DC League of Super-Pets” also has some meaningful messages about finding a family of friends. Ace has a poignant backstory about how he ended up at an animal shelter. Ace’s background explains why he puts up a tough exterior to hide his vulnerability about being abandoned.

Johnson (who is one of the producers of “DC League of Super-Pets”) and Hart have co-starred in several movies together. Their comedic rapport as lead characters Krypto and Ace remains intact and one of the main reasons why “DC League of Super-Pets” has voice cast members who are perfectly suited to each other. Hart is a lot less grating in “DC League of Super-Pets” than he is in some of his other movies, where he often plays an over-the-top-buffoon.

Even though Ace is an animated dog, he has more heart than some of the human characters that Hart has played in several of his mediocre-to-bad movies, Law-abiding Krypto and rebellious Ace have opposite personalities, but they learn a lot from each other in ways that they did not expect. All of the other heroic characters have personal growth in some way too.

“DC League of Super-Pets” is a recommended watch for anyone who wants some escapist animation with entertainment personalities. The movie’s mid-credits scene and end-credits scene indicate that “DC League of Super-Pets” is the beginning of a movie series. It’s very easy to imagine audiences wanting more of these characters in movies if the storytelling is good.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “DC League of Super-Pets” in U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘I Used to Go Here,’ starring Gillian Jacobs, Jemaine Clement, Josh Wiggins, Hannah Marks, Forrest Goodluck, Zoë Chao and Jorma Taccone

August 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Gillian Jacobs and Jemaine Clement in “I Used to Go Here” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“I Used to Go Here”

Directed by Kris Rey

Culture Representation: Taking place in Illinois, the comedy/drama film “I Used to Go Here” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, one African American and one Native American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Chicago-based writer in her 30s, who’s going through some issues in her career and personal life, is invited to be a guest speaker at her university alma mater, where memories of her college experiences make her feel insecure about her current life. 

Culture Audience: “I Used to Go Here” will appeal mostly to people who like realistic independent dramedies about life during and after college.

Josh Wiggins, Gillian Jacobs, Khloe Janel and Forrest Goodluck in “I Used to Go Here” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Anyone who has ever been to a class reunion, gone back to visit a school they used to attend, or had a conversation with a former classmate after years of not speaking to each other can probably relate in some way to the low-key but engaging comedy/drama film “I Used to Go Here.” Written and directed by Kris Rey, “I Used to Go Here” goes on an emotionally authentic journey with someone who is reminded of the hopes and dreams she had in college, as she comes to terms with how her life has turned out so far.

The movie opens in Chicago, where writer Kate Conklin (played by Gillian Jacobs), who’s in her late 30s, is on a conference call getting some bad news from two people who work for her book publisher. Her first novel, a love story titled “Seasons Passed,” has recently been published, but sales have been disappointing. As a result, her book tour has been cancelled.

The book representatives give Kate a glimmer of hope by telling her that The New York Times will be publishing a review of the book. If the review is positive, Kate’s book tour could be resurrected. They assure her that the book’s commercial failure has a lot to do with declining book sales in general, but something about the patronizing tone in the voices indicates that it’s a canned comment that they tell authors whose book sales are flopping.

In the meantime, Kate (who is single and has no children) is experiencing some breakup blues. She’s not completely over the end of her relationship with her former fiancé Michael, who used to live with her. (It’s never revealed in the movie why they broke up or how long they were together.)

When Kate goes through some of her mail at her apartment, she sees that Michael has gotten some junk mail delivered to the address. And she uses it as an excuse to call him. She gets his voice mail and leaves a message to tell him that he’s still getting “important” mail at her address, and she asks him to call her back because “it would be nice to talk to you.”

As if it isn’t made clear enough that Kate is supposed to look like a sad and lonely spinster, there’s a scene of her looking forlorn at a baby shower where she seems to be the only woman there who isn’t a wife or mother. Someone asks Kate to get in a photo with three pregnant woman at the party, and she uncomfortably agrees to be in the photo.

One of the pregnant women is Kate’s close friend Laura (played by Zoë Chao), who has known Kate since their college days at the fictional Illinois University in Carbondale, where Kate graduated 15 years ago. (The real-life university in Carbondale is Southern Illinois University.) Throughout the movie, Kate and Laura call each other to give updates on their lives and provide emotional support for each other.

Not long after her book tour has been cancelled, Kate gets some good news that lifts her spirits: David Kirkpatrick (played by Jemaine Clement), her favorite professor from Illinois University, has called to invite her to be a guest speaker at the university, where she will do a lecture that includes reading excerpts from “Seasons Passed.” Kate was in David’s creative writing class in the first year that he was a professor, and she was his star student. Kate is flattered by the invitation and immediately says yes.

Carbondale is about 330 miles from Chicago, so the university provides for Kate’s travel and living accommodations during her visit. They arrange for Kate to have an on-call driver: a friendly and nerdy student named Elliot (played by Rammel Chan), who seems to be attracted to Kate when they first meet. When Elliot genuinely tells Kate that he’s a big fan of her, he does so in a sweet and endearing way, not in a creepy or stalker-ish way.

The university has arranged for Kate to stay at a bed-and-breakfast house that happens to be directly across the street from the house where Kate used to live when she an Illinois University student. The woman who owns the bed-and-breakfast house is named Mrs. Beeter (played by Cindy Gold), who has a cold and abrupt demeanor when she tells Kate the “house rules.”

One of the rules is that Mrs. Beeter gives guests only one set of keys. If the keys are lost, the guest might be locked out of the house. Mrs. Beeter has the keys on a lanyard, and she insists that Kate wear the lanyard to decrease the chance of the keys getting lost. It’s at this moment that viewers can predict that Kate will at some point lose the keys and be locked out of the house.

When Kate meets up with David on campus before her guest lecture, it’s clear that there’s some mutual but unspoken attraction between them. Shortly after they begin talking, a woman comes over to David, and he introduces her as his wife, Alexis (played by Kristina Valada-Viars), whom he’s been married to for five years. The disappointed and surprised look on Kate’s face indicates that she was hoping that David would be single and available.

Kate and Alexis exchange pleasant “nice to meet you” talk. Alexis tells Kate, “David talks about you all the time.” David, looking slightly embarrassed, says: “Well, not all the time.” It’s another sign of some underlying feelings that David might have toward Kate.

Kate’s lecture, which was hosted by the university’s creative writing department, goes fairly well, despite Kate’s initial nervousness. Afterward, David invites Kate to have dinner with him and Alexis. Some tension in Alexis and David’s marriage starts to show when David blurts out that Alexis doesn’t like Kate’s book “Seasons Passed.”

It’s now Alexis’ turn to be embarrassed, and she reluctantly admits that she didn’t feel emotionally connected to the book after reading it. Kate graciously accepts the criticism, but the negative feedback makes Alexis uncomfortable enough that she excuses herself to go to the ladies’ room. Before Alexis leaves the table, she calls David an “asshole” in front of Kate, who gives Alexis a knowing smile, as if to say, “I know he can be a jerk too.”

While Alexis is in the restroom, David tells Kate that there’s an opening in the university’s creative writing department, and he wants to recommend her for the job if she’s interested. David is very eager for Kate to become his co-worker, but she’s not ready to make that decision right then and there, so she doesn’t give an answer.

The next day, Kate is taking a selfie in front of the house she used to live in as a college student, when one of the house’s residents comes out and introduces himself. His nickname is Animal (played by Forrest Goodluck), and when she tells him that she used to live there when she was a college student, he invites her inside. During her nostalgic tour of the house, she meets two other housemates: socially awkward Tall Brandon (played by Brandon Daley) and self-assured Hugo (played by Josh Wiggins).

Hannah marvels at how some of the unique touches that she put in the house (decorating one of the room’s ceilings with stars and having a writers’ corner in another room) are still there. She’s also thrilled to learn that most of the people in the house are interested in creative writing. Hugo isn’t interested in being a writer, but he mentions to Hannah that his girlfriend is in David’s class.

Later that day, Kate sits in on a class led by David (he invited her) and she sees that David has a new “star” student: Her name is April (played by Hannah Marks), and David seems to be in awe of her, which causes Kate to feel some envy toward April. Based on April volunteering to read a sample of her work in front of the class, April is a confident writer whose prose has a tone that’s edgy, sexually sensual and emotionally raw. It won’t come as much of a surprise (it’s not spoiler information) when Kate finds out that April is Hugo’s girlfriend.

There’s a scene in “I Used to Go Here” that could have been an outtake, but it seems to be in the movie because Jorma Taccone (of The Lonely Island comedy group fame) is one of the movie’s producers. (The Lonely Island members Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer are among the other producers of this movie.) In the scene, Taccone plays Bradley “Brad” Cooper, a former classmate of Kate’s who sees her by chance while she’s in Carbondale, and he invites her to have dinner and drinks with him.

During their dinner date at a local restaurant/bar, Brad turns out to be a jerk. He tells Kate that when he was in college, she was the woman he thought about the most when he masturbated, but he forgot all about her after all these years until he saw her again. Not long after the date starts, Kate finds out that Brad has also invited his “friend” Rachel (played by Kate Micucci) to join them on the date. Rachel and Brad then start making out in front of Kate, who sits and watches uncomfortably.

The rest of the movie involves circumstances that lead to Kate hanging out with the college students she met during her visit. The clique includes Animal’s girlfriend Emma (played by Khloe Janel). Even though Kate knows it’s kind of weird for someone in their late 30s to be partying with these college kids, the movie shows that in many ways Kate is trying to relive a time in her life when she was happier and more carefree. And seeing Dave again has brought up some unresolved feelings that Kate and Dave might have toward each other.

Movies with scenes of college students partying sometimes veer into slapstick comedy or over-the-top raunchiness, but writer/director Rey goes for realism throughout the movie, since everything that happens is entirely believable. “I Used to Go Here” also has some subtle commentary on the roles that women are often expected to have in society by the time they reach a certain age.

Kate isn’t the type of person who seems desperate to get married and have kids, but it does bother her that her career isn’t meeting the expectations she had when she was in college. There are multiple scenes in the movie where Kate is lauded as a “successful writer” by people at the university (usually the students give her this praise), but she humbly doesn’t see herself as a success, based on the goals she has for herself.

There’s also a well-written scene that shows some of the passive-aggressive cattiness that women can have toward each other when there’s envy or competition involved. Even though Kate feels like a “failure” inside, she tries to come across as superior to April when April shows Kate her work and asks for Kate’s feedback. In an attempt to deflate April’s confidence, Kate reminds April that she has less experience than Kate and that April isn’t a published author. Kate’s condescending attitude toward April has everything to do with Kate feeling that April has “replaced” Kate as David’s favorite student.

Kate’s self-esteem has also taken a hit because she’s feeling lonely after her breakup from her ex-fiancé Michael. Throughout the movie, Kate checks her phone to see if Michael has contacted her or to see what he’s posted on his social media. Some people might think that this behavior is pathetic, but a lot of people realistically do this after a painful breakup. (It’s pretty obvious that Kate was the one who was dumped.)

As the lovelorn but fairly optimistic Kate, Jacobs does a very good job with the role by making Kate emotionally vulnerable without being whiny or too needy. Jacobs has played these types of “smart but disappointed by life” women in movies and TV before, but that’s because she’s mastered the fine line between comedy and drama. The rest of the cast members are also quite good in their roles, with Clement once again showing that he has a knack for playing egotistical characters who are charming but might have sleazy ulterior motives.

“I Used to Go Here” is by no means a groundbreaking movie. However, it’s the type of movie that people can enjoy if they’re looking for a story where they see what happens during a few days when someone discovers how to reconcile expectations from the past with the realities of today.

Gravitas Ventures released “I Used to Go Here” on digital and VOD on August 7, 2020.

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