At first blush, Somebody I Used to Know sounds like your typical romcom. Workaholic Ally (Alison Brie) returns to her picturesque hometown after her career falls apart and renews acquaintances with her ex, Sean (Jay Ellis).
Except, this isn’t your Hallmark happily ever after. Sean is getting hitched to pop punk singer Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons) – the ‘somebody I used to know’ of the piece, who finds herself at a similar crossroads to the one Ally faced years prior. What follows is a romcom that doesn’t so much as subvert the genre, as move it past its lovey-dovey origins.
To talk about the new Prime Video release, we sat down with Brie – who co-wrote the movie with her husband Dave Franco – and co-star Danny Pudi. From rekindling their Community chemistry, to playing with tropes, and even addressing romcom’s sudden revival, the pair dig deep into a genre that audiences are falling in love with once more.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Somebody I Used to Know turns the premise of going back to a hometown and bumping into an ex on its head. It’s almost an anti-Hallmark movie. Alison, you co-wrote the movie with your husband. Was it always your intention to subvert those tropes - and what did you want to explore with that?
Alison Brie: Yeah, I think so. Dave [Franco, Alison’s husband] and I, in all our writing, are always trying to play with the form a little bit and have some surprises. With this one, we really wanted to channel all of the tropes from our favorite 80s and 90s romcoms and pay homage to them while at the same time, hopefully, injecting the characters with something that's updated for our current time and subverting expectations a little bit.
I think that if you read the premise of this movie, it certainly sounds like something that you've seen before. But I think audiences will be surprised… it has some unexpected twists and turns.
You mentioned the romcoms of the 80s and 90s. It almost feels like we’re going full circle. Maybe not quite at the heyday of Matthew McConaughey in the early noughties with romcoms, but we’re not far off. Danny, why do you think the genre is making a comeback?
Danny Pudi: I think that there is a good feeling that you have at the end of this movie. There’s something nice about being able to go on a journey where many of us have gone through - where you have to revisit the past. Whether that's going to your high school reunion or going back to your small town, that's something very familiar.
I think right now, it’s nice to have movies that make you feel good walking out of the theater. It’s got that. It’s got this ensemble, throwback feel of checking in the past of your buddies and feeling good about it.
Alison Brie: I think the romcom genre is as old as filmmaking itself and will always continue to come back around. People love love stories. That's the tale as old as time: human beings are drawn to one another, we love to fall in love. So we love to watch stories about people falling in love.
Every generation is going to update the genre in their own way. What we’re seeing now is the cool, edgy taste level. Those are the people who are deciding to dip back into making romcoms. I think about movies like The Big Sick or Palm Springs or Fire Island, just like a lot of new fresh perspectives on the genre and it's so welcome.
Can we all just admit that rom coms are our favorite comfort movies? Those are the movies we go back to watching again and again, and not be embarrassed by it. It’s in those moments where really thoughtful, progressive filmmakers are tapping back into the genre. I think that's why we're seeing such great romcoms right now.
I want to talk about Benny’s friendship with Ali. Another movie might have gone down the ‘will they/won’t they?’ path. It’s a male-female friendship you don’t often see in the genre. Could you speak about that friendship, what it adds to the movie, and how it separates itself from other romcoms?
Danny Pudi: Well, when this role was first presented to me as ‘Danny.’ [laughs]
It was very much a reflection of our real relationship. Alison and I are super tight, we’ve grown super close over the years and we've always had just like this really great friendship. It’s just kind of acceptance, it's trust, we've kind of [both] gone through things. She was there when my wife and I had kids; on the set of Community; I was at her wedding.
There's all these moments that we've been through with each other off camera. And it was nice to actually just bring our true friendship, that kind of energy, and add that dynamic into the film.
I do feel like there is this thread of a friendship and like ‘How do you be a good friend through all these chaotic moments?’ I was thrilled to be a part of it and so excited when Dave and Alison wrote it for me.
Alison Brie: Danny has definitely given me his share of relationship advice in the pre-Dave days. And you just can't fake that history that we have. So it was really fun that Danny said yes and agreed to do the role. Dave, really, just let us play and have fun. We haven't been on set together since Community and we were back to our old antics. Dave left a lot of them in the movie, which is fun.
There’s one scene I want to talk about where Ally takes the stage and starts freestyle singing. Alison, you have a fearsome reputation for freestyle raps on the set of Community…
Alison Brie: You can’t escape your past…
How much of that was off the cuff?
Alison Brie: We definitely wrote that out for the movie, because it had to be to the beat of that Third Eye Blind song. So that was really carefully crafted by Dave and I ahead of shooting. Although there was a brief moment where we thought we weren't gonna get the rights to the Third Eye Blind song. There was this panic of Dave and I trying to fit the lyrics into, like, a Chumbawamba song... I feel like I'm glad it wasn't ‘Tubthumping’.
I think the message of the movie is a super healthy one - about letting go and moving on. So we have Valentine's Day coming up: What message do you hope people, both singles and couples, take away from the movie?
Alison Brie: Something about communication, right? People need to be open with each other and talk about where they’re coming from. Also tapping into your own personal joy, finding the things you’re passionate about. Hopefully people will take away - whether they’re in a relationship or not - that it’s never too late to tap back into those things that bring you joy. Hopefully the person you’re with is supportive of that.
Somebody I Used to Know is streaming on Amazon Prime Video from February 10. For more, here are the best shows on Amazon Prime and best movies on Amazon Prime you should be watching right now.