I Used to Go Here

Kate Conklin ('Community's' Gillian Jacobs) could be having an early midlife crisis.  While her best friend Laura (Zoe Chao, "Downhill") is expecting, she’s being ghosted by her recent fiancé.  When we meet her, she’s schlepping a box of wedding invitations home while juggling a phone call telling her that the book tour for her first published novel has been canceled.  Then a huge ego boost arrives in the form of her former English professor, David (Jemaine Clement), who invites her to her alma mater for a reading.  Comforted by nostalgia in Carbondale, Kate tells anyone who will listen “I Used to Go Here.”

Laura's Review: B

Chicago-based writer/director Kris Rey’s beautifully assembled ensemble buoys her tale of a woman running back to the collegial womb after buffeting blows from the outside world.  This is a film whose chuckles arrive more from the quirks of character than the situations they find themselves in (although there is a third act riff on Stifler’s mom, albeit a sweet, far more innocent one).  Rey’s writing is like a series of gentle waves which lift her players up before setting them down again.

Rey conveys the magnitude of ‘Seasons Passed’ in Kate’s life with a visual gag, Kate holding her book where her pregnant belly would be in a shower photographer with expectant friends.  Her excitement over David’s call hints at something more than the promise of a rapt audience, a possible crush on a favored teacher.

Kate gets everything she’s looking for upon her arrival at Carbondale Station.  She’s picked up by a student, Elliot (Rammel Chan), who informs her he will be at her beck and call during her stay, then deposits her at a charming Bed and Breakfast with Mrs. Beeter (Cindy Gold) that happens to be directly across the street from the house she used to live in.  Kate wanders over and is invited in by Animal (Forrest Goodluck, "The Revenant"), who introduces her to Hugo (Josh Wiggins, 2015's "Max") and Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley), all treating her as a published author.  Hugo, who has Kate’s old bedroom, invites her to a party that evening.  Elliot arrives to take her to her well attended reading begun with a laudatory introduction from David.

Then Rey sets her bobbles in motion.  Kate is very surprised to learn that David is married.  At dinner, she learns from David that Alexis (Kristina Valada-Viars) wasn’t positive on her book.  Observing his class the next day, Kate witnesses an assignment reading by April (Hannah Marks, "Banana Split") that threatens her favored status.  She’s upended again when the date she’s made with former classmate Bradley Cooper (Jorma Taccone), who used to crush on her, includes his girlfriend Rachel (Kate Micucci).  Having incurred the wrath of Mrs. Beeter for losing her key, she diverts from confrontation and an evening alone in the dumps to the party across the street.  Falling in with the kids flips the script on her stay’s objectives.           

Jacobs is pitch perfect here, geeky and awkward, too obviously anxious to be liked, to be ‘cool’ around the younger kids (and failing miserably), yet not so self absorbed that she lacks empathy for others.  Kate has to navigate some harsh truths about herself in order to help someone else and the actress and her writer/director deliver with aplomb.  One of the strongest elements of “I Used to Go Here” is how distinct each member of its supporting cast is.  Wiggins and Jacobs signal an early connection and it plays out perfectly.  Chao is a delightful sounding board.  Daley is hilarious connecting with Hugo's Mom (Jennifer Joan Taylor) during a secret group incursion.   Khloe Janel displays the confidence Kate lacks as Animal’s girlfriend Emma.     

“I Used To Go Here” is an emotionally generous comedy where happiness is often the direct result of helping somebody else.  Kris Rey has a sure yet gentle hand at its tiller.

Robin's Review: B

Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs) thought she had the world by the tail.  She was top of her class at Illinois U, had an assured future and, now at 35, her first novel is in print. But, ominously, her publisher abruptly canceled her book tour and life as she knew it goes down the drain. A timely invite from her former professor, David (Jermaine Clement), to give a reading at her alma mater is an emotional lifeline that she cannot refuse in “I Used to Go Here.”

This is the kind of coming-of-adult-age tale that does not get much attention as a movie subject. Usually, Here, “grown up” Kate’s dilemma is an unexpected roadblock in her previously assured future and it makes for an untapped story idea. Usually it is a teen coming of age tale or an adult mid-life crisis yarn. Here we have a combo of both.

The call from David dangles the promise of turning life defeat into life victory and she jumps at the offer. And, when she arrives on her old campus, she feels better about herself. After all, she is a published author, isn’t she?

Instead of being the mature writer dispensing her wisdom, she realizes that the unfettered enthusiasm she once had has been lost. Her conflict of being “in print” at the same time her publishers refuse to back her book tour is the catalyst for Kate’s coming life changes. That and the fact that she is among some smart and savvy young people, including the roommates – Animal (Forrest Goodluck), Hugo (Josh Wiggins) and Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley) - who now live in the house where Kate grew up.

While the story is populated with a cast of 3D characters What I like most about “I Used to Go Here” is Kate’s arc of character. She once knew exactly where life path would take her but, now, she is not so sure. Her return to the place where she felt secure, years ago, is the vehicle she needs to drive into a better, more full and caring future.