The back-to-school comedy/drama “I Used To Go Here” has a lot going for it pretty deep into the story — but like a college freshman who aces the first semester but hits the wall after the holiday break, it runs into some unexpected barriers and walks quietly across the finish line. Still, the overall GPA is in the solid B range.
Despite some late misgivings, there’s much to recommend in the talented writer-director Kris Rey’s indie-vibe story, from the pitch-perfect depiction of off-campus life at a state school to the manner in which characters rely on technology to learn the truth about certain relationships, to the winning and authentic performance by Gillian Jacobs as a 35-year-old Chicago writer experiencing career and personal crises simultaneously.
Jacobs’ Kate has recently published her first novel, titled “Seasons Passed” —but as she learns in a phone call with a couple of chipper publicists who sound amazingly upbeat as they deliver terrible news, initial sales have been so disappointing they’ve canceled her promotional book tour. (Based on the excerpts we hear, it’s a miracle the novel got published, let alone garnered enough early buzz to warrant a book tour.) If that’s not bad enough, Kate opens a box filled with invitations to her wedding — a wedding that ain’t happening because her fiancé dumped her and apparently has moved on to new romantic ground rather quickly. Oh, and three of Kate’s closest friends are pregnant at the same time, which makes her feel like she’s behind EVERYONE in terms of grown-up life progress.
Jemaine Clement exudes just the right combination of professorial authority and not-so-subtle sleaziness as David, who was Kate’s mentor in college and is still teaching at her alma mater in downstate Carbondale. David invites Kate to give a reading of her novel, and she jumps at the chance to get out of Chicago, reconnect with her past and see David for the first time in 15 years.
A fantastically funny Rammel Chan plays the super-chipper student guide Elliot, who picks up Kate at the train station and takes her to the bed & breakfast where she’ll be staying — which is right across the street from her old college house. Kate quickly falls into a rebel daughter/disapproving mother dynamic with the no-nonsense Mrs. Beeter (Cindy Gold, brilliant), who runs the B&B, and she finds herself hanging out at the old house with the current occupants, are bemused by the presence of this 35-year-old woman but are collectively a kind and understanding bunch who recognize Kate is a mess and make her part of their group. (The attention to detail is pitch-perfect, from the roommate who spoons a bowl of cereal while ambling about the house to the empty beer bottles perched on the ledge on the front porch, to the manner in which these college kids interact with each other.)
Some later developments, most notably a mission to reveal David for the cad he truly is, are broader in tone and not as involving as the buildup. But there’s a wonderfully weird development regarding the mother of one of the roommates, and a possible fling for Kate that comes across as sweet when it could be off-putting. Throughout, the always likable Gillian Jacobs creates a memorable portrayal of a woman who’s a mess but still rather wonderful.