2020 Milwaukee Film Festival: “I USED TO GO HERE”
The 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival has gone for a virtual format in the wake of a pandemic. That makes for an altogether different experience. Gone are the long lines and the crowds and in is the coziness of streaming. It’s a slightly disorienting experience, but it’s sure to bring its own pleasures. And touches of familiarity, like Milwaukee Film spotlighting a crowd-pleaser on opening night, in this case Kris Rey’s I USED TO GO HERE.
The basic plot of I USED TO GO HERE is pretty straightforward. Kate (Gillian Jacobs) is 15 years out from college where she was once a star of the creative writing department. She’s on the cusp of having her first novel published, but there are cracks in her apparent triumph. She and her fiance’ have broken up. All her close friends are about to have children. She hates the cover of her book and her book tour has been cancelled. But, an invite back to campus for a reading by her favorite professor (Jemaine Clement) is sure to lift up her spirits and remind her of all her promise. Right?
Well, it’s most assuredly wrong, which is where the story comes in. Buoyed by Gillian Jacobs there’s always an emotional core to every scene. COMMUNITY was known for its meta sensibilities and ability to turn tropes on their heads, but the core ensemble kept it running even when it tended to swallow its own tail. And Gillian Jacobs was one of the most versatile on the show, being able to be broadly funny, to be occasionally insufferable, and to have cracks of emotional vulnerability without ever losing her likability. That charisma and talent serves her well as she has to carry the film. There’s more than a few things that will make one cringe, yet Jacobs finds the emotional core and the tone where her character never loses her dignity, wit, or likeability even when she’s engaging in some ill thought escapades.
If only the rest of the movie was up to the ability of Gillian Jacobs. There are high points along the way, bits of dialogue that are insightful and graceful, the setting feels authentic, there’s always a good tune on the soundtrack, and there’s humor that’s genuine. However, it feels strapped to a story where you already know the big beats from the beginning. A few nuances here and there can’t shake up the comfortable familiarity I USED TO GO HERE often falls into. There’s craft, but there’s not much inspiration.
Which is not to say that the theme of I USED TO GO HERE is not worth listening to. Or that there aren’t moments and performances to savor. But, instead of cutting deep, it settles for something resembling a well made rainy weekend comfort movie. There are places for that, but, like the protagonist of the film, it feels like we’re settling for something less than the full potential promised. Even if Gillian Jacobs is making the experience extremely watchable.
I USED TO GO HERE is streaming throughout the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival which runs from October 15 to 29, 2020. Tickets to individual films and passes can be purchased via Milwaukee Film.