Kris Rey directs Gillian Jacobs in a lighthearted comedy about reliving the supposedly carefree college years.
There’s a train line out of Chicago that runs down the entire length of Illinois. When I take it, I get off approximately halfway, in my hometown of Champaign-Urbana. But if you keep riding south, you’ll reach the end of the line: Carbondale. That’s where I Used To Go Here writer-director Kris Rey got her bachelor’s degree; both she and her protagonist Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs) graduated from Southern Illinois University a decade-and-a-half ago.
Rey’s film begins with Kate getting off that same train. She’s been invited back to her alma matter to give a reading of her debut novel, an invitation she’s able to accept because her publisher has, unfortunately, cancelled her book tour. At least she still gets a break from the awkward baby showers of her friends and her stack of cancelled wedding invitations.
When Kate arrives, she’s greeted by her former professor David Kirkpatrick (Jermaine Clement), who’s more than happy to introduce one of his first students as a published author. Then again, his advances aren’t quite appropriate: Kate seems to appreciate his attention, even as it makes us cringe, regularly. Rey, a veteran of the mumblecore movement, has no problem holding her audiences’ feet to the fire, as the dynamic between ex-student and still-a-teacher feels both prickly and a little creepy.
Are you an adult when you’re in college? Are you an adult post-grad? What follows resembles that section of Frances Ha in which Frances returns to her university. Both films force their subjects back to go forward, presenting coming-of-age as a not-so-linear process. Kate bumbles around Carbondale. She bumps into a former classmate (The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, in a hilarious interlude), and entertains the idea of going back to college, by either accepting a teaching position or pretending she’s still a student.
Rey, a veteran of the mumblecore movement, has no problem holding her audiences’ feet to the fire.
Anyone familiar with Community or the underrated Don’t Think Twice knows that Jacobs carries a very unique, awkward screen presence. It took a few scenes for me to believe her as Kate specifically, though by the time the credits roll she proves a worthy on-screen surrogate for Rey. Together, filmmaker and actor locate an ideal ironic distance between Rey and this version of herself: it’s entertaining to watch Kate stumble, but we’re never laughing too hard at her.
What’s more surprising is how stacked of a cast Rey builds around Jacobs. As Professor Kirkpatrick, Clements has a lot of fun chewing the scenery, but it’s the current students Kate encounters who truly impress. Of course, she can’t resist returning to the house where she used to live, and to the movies’ credit everyone she meets there looks and sounds like an actual college student.
“I used to dance in this room like, fifteen years ago!” “I was in kindergarten fifteen years ago!” They’re a caring bunch, from “Tall Brandon” (Brandon Daley) to “Animal” (Forrest Goodluck) and his girlfriend Emma (Khloe Janel) to aspiring writer Hugo (Josh Wiggins). Sure, it might be a little weird for them hang out with someone in her thirties, but they don’t mind. It’s as rare as it is welcome to see an ensemble of intelligent and supportive young people on-screen – I Used To Go Here is one of the best exceptions this side of Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
At a mere 87-minutes and again like Frances Ha, Rey’s work is tight, never missing a beat. Maybe I just have an affinity for Illinois college towns, but this is an exceptionally charming, funny and well-constructed indie. Or put it this way: like Kate, you won’t regret your brief trip to Carbondale.
I Used to Go Here is available on VOD starting August 7th.