"I Used to Go Here" Movie Review
As many folks as there are who are eager to leave the salad days of college life in the rearview mirror, there seem to be just as many people who find it impossible to shake the nostalgia for the ol’ alma mater. It’s a plot we’ve seen play out in Hollywood countless times (including 2018’s Life of the Party, 2011’s Liberal Arts, and, heck, even the 2003 classic Old School), and now we can add to the mix writer-director Kris Rey’s I Used to Go Here (which was supposed to premiere at South By Southwest in March in a pre-COVID-19 world). An above-average blend of Liberal Arts’ weighty drama and Old School’s goofball hijinks, the film floats along as a generally quiet, quintessentially indie flick—full of delightful performances and quirky set pieces, all taking place in a charming little college town.
Gillian Jacobs stars as Chicago writer Kate Conklin, who has just published her first novel, only to find the silence deafening. Sales are tepid, and her book tour has just been canceled (plus, her finacé just left her, and all her girlfriends are married and pregnant). When her old professor David (Jemaine Clement) calls her back to campus for a reading, she jumps at the chance and is out the door before even hanging up the phone.
Once there, Kate catches up with the creepier-in-person David (who seems to have forgotten about his wife standing next to him) after first checking in at a B&B directly across from her old off-campus house. Unable to keep herself from wandering over to check out her former digs, she reminisces with current occupants Animal (Forrest Goodluck), Hugo (Josh Wiggins), and Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley), who are prepping for that night’s kegger. (Ten bucks says you can’t guess where Kate winds up later that evening.)
The following night (and a fair amount of roundabout plot later), Kate and her new college friends wind up at David’s house, suspicious that he may be shtupping his student (and Hugo’s girlfriend) April, played by scene-stealer Hannah Marks. Things get a little goofy, to be sure, but seasoned director Rey manages to keep everything in check while also holding on to the undercurrent of real emotions in most of the scenes. Kate’s nostalgia also echoes throughout the film (particularly when David offers her the chance to teach writing in the upcoming fall semester) as she realizes there’s not a whole lot waiting for her back in the city.
Jacobs, still known best for her role as returning college student Britta on Community for six seasons, thankfully plays Kate with enough restraint to keep the character from becoming a caricature. What could have easily become a prat-falling buffoon or an overly sappy bit of sentimentality (or both) instead emerges as a grounded and relatable mess, perfect for the moment.
Though I Used to Go Here isn’t without flaws (a soupçon of nuance would have been welcome, and the tonal shifts are sporadically jarring), it still manages to work for what it is—a quaint journey of discovery for someone who is in desperate need and comes to realize that away from home may be where the heart is.