Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s unconventional combo of rom-com, BFF dramedy, and a million other genres charms thanks to Gina Rodriguez and LaKeith Stanfield.
Breaking down Someone Great ends up reading something like a recipe. “Take one part break up movie, one part rom-com, one part ‘friends ride together one last time’, and one part ‘one wild night’ and combine in roughly equal measure.”
Opening on our ostensible lead Jenny Young (Gina Rodriguez) pulling the classic tallboy from a paper bag while waiting for the subway routine New Yorkers know well, the film immediately gives you its flavor. Jenny is grandiose, motor-mouthed, and teetering wildly between “I hate him, he’s the worst!” and “My life is over!” after her breakup from Nate (LaKeith Stanfield), her boyfriend of nearly a decade. A random nearby stranger, Cynthia (Michelle Buteau), gets drawn into Jenny’s spiral. Cynthia moves rapidly from annoyance to sympathy to tearful “finding love is impossible” empathy and back to annoyance.
If it feels to scattershot and unreal for you in that moment, bail. This movie is not for you. However, if, you got a kick out of the sideways heightened energy of the scene, catch that subway with Jenny. This is a ride you will enjoy.
Similar to how Great mixes and matches tone and plot from the four genres, it collects the good, the bad, and the clichés from them too. As with ‘friend’s last adventures’ and ‘this crazy night’ movies, Great is episodic and all over the map—literally and figuratively. Seriously, take a map of Manhattan and try to chart the trio’s comings and goings. What puts it over, in the end, is the cast and the creeping melancholic tone.
As noted already, Rodriguez sells Jenny as the type of person who both tries to do whatever she can to avoid her pain while also elevating it to a kind Greek tragedy level sadness. She is joined in this quixotic pursuit by Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow), her closest friends since college.
In the way of these films, both supporting players are the precipice of their own personal and romantic crises. First, there is the fact that Jenny is set to leave the City for San Francisco for a dream job with Rolling Stone. (Please ignore that Rolling Stone no longer has a San Francisco office and has not since around the time Jenny and Nate started dating.) On top of that, Erin seems to be trying desperately to avoid committing to Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones) the woman she is seeing. She refuses to call Leah her girlfriend, refuses to meet Leah’s friends, despite all signs pointing to Erin falling in love. Blair, on the other hand, has zero problems committing. The only thing is she has committed to a stable long-term relationship devoid of spark with Will (Alex Moffat), a man she has very possibly grown to hate.
Both Wise and Snow do excellent work in their roles. Wise, in particular, stands out. She has bounced around a lot of TV work for years and a few bigger roles recently, but judging on this performance, she deserves more attention. The script, unfortunately, saddles her with some cliched personality tics and some even more cliched lines to acknowledge them but it never trips her up. She takes the material and makes it work.
Rodriguez sells Jenny as the type of person who both tries to do whatever she can to avoid her pain while also elevating it to a kind Greek tragedy level sadness.
Since I just bagged on writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s script a bit there, let me say that it redeems itself in the third act. Finding a bittersweet heart underneath the enjoyable chaos we have borne witness during the movie, the script—mostly—has the confidence to present it without much commentary. Jenny’s last letter to Nate, offered in voiceover, is both honest and perfectly in her tendency towards the elevation of the moment. A brief daydream of reconciliation lends additional heart tugs. If only the movie could resist Jenny’s last monologue about “being so sad, but like a good kind of sad,” it would have been pitch perfect.
In the end, though, those kinds of slip-ups fit Someone Great. It is loud, it is messy, it screams things that should be whispered or left unsaid. It goes out exactly like our trio of friends does: heartful, tumbling towards maturity and letting us know how great and scary each and every moment is.