August 12, 2020
by Carla Hay
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.
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.