I think everyone on campus can agree that life in our quintessential college town has changed drastically in the midst of this pandemic. The Big House is vacant, the diag is quiet, and the tailgate scene is virtually nonexistent; even house parties seem few and far between. If you miss that long ago feeling of Ann Arbor pre-pandemic- when the thought of being in a crowded basement with 40 strangers sounded like a fun Friday night instead of a sure way to catch Covid, then I have the movie for you. From wherever this pandemic has put you, be it off campus, on campus, or the North Campus quarantine dorms, stream I Used to Go Here from director Kris Rey for a nostalgic reminder of life in a flourishing college town, and all the emotional turmoil that goes along with it.
The film follows Kate, played by Gillian Jacobs, as she struggles to navigate this somewhat delayed coming of age story. Though once a star writing student at the fictional Illinois University, Kate is now in her mid thirties, alone, and picking up the pieces of a failed long-term relationship while her recently published book flounders in the press. Unlike her friends, who have moved on and begun families, it seems Kate cannot find a purpose, and longs for the days when her world was nothing more than the college town where she first fell in love with writing. Though a bit slow at the start, the heart of the story comes once Kate’s former writing professor, David (Jemaine Clement), invites her back to that very town to do a reading of her new book. There, Kate is faced with the fact that her own college days are fifteen years behind her, and spends a wild week with a group of current students who remind her of both the invigorating rush and newfound accountability that is early adulthood.
Though Jacobs gives a convincing performance, her college aged counterparts are the ones who steal the show. The characters Hugo (Josh Wiggins) and April (Hannah Marks) offer especially heart-wrenching performances that truly capture the confusion of young love, and its paradoxical combination of inexperience and unfamiliar responsibility. Even in their most tender moments, these characters come across so charmingly naive that they paint an accurate picture of college students, while still offering a hint of comic relief. Friends of this duo, Emma (Khloe Janel), Animal (Forrest Goodluck), and Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley), are also genuinely hilarious. This is where the writing truly shines. As a nineteen year old, I don’t often come across movies that accurately write the way teenagers really talk and behave; all in all, I think this film portrayed them pretty believably, not to mention hysterically- props to writer Kris Rey for that.
Throughout the film, comedy is actually pretty consistent. David, Kate’s washed-up professor, is comically self absorbed, a trait which is only bolstered by praise from Kate and his other female students. With his God-complex on full display, David is a very familiar, and yet still believable, depiction of a self-important male professor who thrives off of validation from his inferiors. Additionally, I do appreciate that even the lesser characters, like tour guide grad student Elliot (Rammel Chan) are fleshed out and funny. Elliot’s people pleasing responses to even the most ridiculous requests are delightful to witness, as is Kate’s disastrous reunion with her creepy former classmate, Bradley, played by Jorma Taccone. The side characters are pretty entertaining, and as a comedy, this movie functions well.
The one area where I have a problem is the more emotional side. I think Kate fell a little flat, as did her side of the story in terms of her book. Until the very end of the movie, it is unclear why her book failed and how it relates to her own character development. At times, the movie felt very choppy as a result of this disconnect. I think the comedy needed to be more carefully interwoven with the heavier elements. Kate lives in her own world as a character, but I feel that the audience was not brought deeply enough into it with her. I felt more of a connection with others who had significantly less screen time, just because their motivations and emotions were a lot more developed on screen.
That being said, I did really enjoy this film, and found it touching nonetheless. The comedic elements were stronger than the emotional ones, but it still did make me sit and reflect on my own college experience, and where I want to be fifteen years from now. If you do watch it, be warned, you may feel more than a little nostalgic for the way our town used to be. You can currently stream I Used to Go Here at the Michigan Theater website (https://www.michtheater.org/screenings/i-used-to-go-here/), and I urge you to do so, as both an escape from this pandemic and a reminder of the experiences still on the horizon once we can take our masks off again.