When I was watching “Somebody I Used to Know,” a new romantic comedy starring Alison Brie, I started to feel a little warm and fuzzy inside. Something about the movie felt familiar – like seeing an old friend, or cozying up in a big, worn sweater, or sipping on a cup of coffee doing the Sunday crossword.
It could have been the story. The film follows Ally (Brie), who reconnects with her ex-boyfriend Sean (Jay Ellis) on a trip home before finding out that he’s getting married to a younger woman named Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons). Of course, she tries to break up the wedding. The antics can’t help but remind you of “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and while it’s nearly impossible to reach the heights of that movie, any comparison is a badge a romantic comedy should wear with pride.
It also could have been Ally’s character. She’s the host of a made-up reality show that takes place on an island and somehow combines dating and competition cooking. I’m not really sure how it works, but that’s not important. What is important is that Ally is a workaholic, and as I type this while downing my third cup of coffee, I must admit I saw some of my worst work traits represented on screen in a way that was deeply unsettling.
Or, it could have been the reunion between Brie and Danny Pudi. Both actors starred on the television show “Community” together, and while they haven’t appeared on screen since, the real life friendship between the two easily translates to the screen. Pudi plays Benny, the voice of reason questioning what in the world Ally thinks she’s doing – the Rupert Everett to Brie’s Julia Roberts, if you will.
Whatever it was, “Somebody I Used to Know” is somehow able to capture that old romantic comedy nostalgia I’m always searching for while still feeling fresh. Brie wrote the film with her husband, Dave Franco, with Franco directing. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to Brie about that writing process, the inspiration for the film, and of course, the addiction that is “Bachelor in Paradise.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I wanted to start off talking about the inspiration for this movie. As it was going on, I kept thinking about “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and then that actually comes up in the script. So I wanted to know if there were any other movies or romantic comedies you were thinking about while you were working on the movie.
Alison Brie: We were working from a few different places. So part of it absolutely starts where you’re pinpointing, with our love for the rom-com genre, and all of those movies from that period in the 1980s and 1990s, of what I consider to be the classic rom-coms. “When Harry Met Sally …,” “Pretty Woman,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “While You Were Sleeping” – I could just go on and on. We love those movies. They are our comfort movies, we find ourselves going back to them again and again. So we wanted to kind of tap into that nostalgia, that feeling that you get watching them – the warm and fuzzies. But then [we wanted to] kind of bring the characters into today’s current moment and bring some ideas that are a little bit unexpected.
We also were exploring the themes of the one that got away. I find it really interesting, a lot of people that I know – myself included, in my younger days – it was in our nature to sort of like, break up and get back together. I kind of wanted to examine that relationship amnesia that can happen after a breakup. The minute you start feeling lonely, you’re like – they were great, it was me! Even if that’s not really the case.
And lastly, this idea of going home again and seeing people from your past, and what that can drum up emotionally for a person. We wrote this movie predominantly during COVID lockdown in 2020. I think a lot of people were doing soul searching and kind of analyzing where they found themselves in their life. So, that definitely worked its way into the story and really is the main theme that we’re exploring in the movie.
I want to go back to what you said about bringing up ideas that are unexpected. Your character Ally in the movie says something that sort of stuck with me – “You build your whole life around this one thing. What if it’s the wrong thing?” That’s something I think about constantly, and I wondered if that’s something you ever struggle with or you’ve thought about?
Brie: Kind of. I think you can look at it in a sense of the industry that you’ve been working in and also, as we were saying, in the pandemic. We had a lot of friends who went through major life shifts – moving back home, or just moving to another city, or another state, people divorcing, people getting married. It kind of went all ways, you know, of that kind of analyzation of where people were finding themselves.
On a personal level, I think of just a journey within a career. I’m definitely doing the thing I want to do, and I’ve always been doing that thing. I’m so lucky to get to do that. And at the same time, that can take its own turn, where in success, you start to hang on a little too tightly to the thing. You start to kind of define yourself in narrower terms, or something, and maybe forget a little bit about the joy of it, the reason that you started doing it. I think in recent years, I have wanted to tap back into the original reasons for wanting to do this thing for a living that I love. And that’s part of the reason why Dave [Franco] and I wrote something like this, to tap into, kind of on a base level, joyful creativity, and make something that we feel really passionate about.
That’s sort of where the character is as well. Maybe she didn’t see herself as the host of this reality TV show about baking and romance. I am interested in how the idea for that show specifically came up. It’s very funny – those are two very important aspects of reality TV.
Brie: We love reality TV, so it was really fun to workshop ideas for this fake show. I love cooking shows – I love “Top Chef,” I love “The Great British Bake Off” – and we love “The Bachelor” franchise. Like, we’re real suckers for “Bachelor in Paradise.” So this is really kind of like, “The Great British Bake Off” meets “Bachelor in Paradise,” with like, a hint of “Survivor.” I mean, I would watch it.
For sure. I’m glad you brought up writing with Dave. I know you guys have worked together in different capacities before, but I wasn’t sure how often you’ve actually written things together. I would love to hear more about that creative relationship. Do you find it easy, or are there challenges that arise?
Brie: This is the first film that we’ve written together, and we’ve both written films with other writing partners. It really came about in a very organic way, having worked together on a couple of films acting together, and then working together on Dave’s directorial debut, “The Rental,” and getting to explore that new dynamic, with me acting and Dave directing. That just worked out so well, and we’d been enjoying writing separately. It seemed like a no-brainer to work together. And it’s the best. It’s great. We love it. It makes total sense, honestly, because we have such the same taste. We often talk about how we just watch everything together. We kind of love all the same things and hate all the same things. So writing together was quite easy because our sensibilities are the same.
I think we just have time for one more question, but I do have to ask – I’m a huge “Community” fan, and obviously Danny Pudi [Abed in “Community] is in this movie. The chemistry between you two was so immediate when he showed up. How was it reuniting in this context?
Brie: It was awesome! We wrote the role for Danny, and he said yes. It’s the first time we’ve been on set together since “Community,” but Danny and I have stayed so close. We’re such close friends. He feels truly like my brother. So, it’s so fun getting to be on set together and joke around. We just fall right back into the way that we used to joke around on “Community” 12 years ago. I even think, when I watch the movie, I’m like – gosh, some of our little jokes that we’re making, Dave would just let the camera roll and a lot of our little behind the scenes jokes made it into the movie. Some of them, I’m watching it being like, oh that’s a Jim Rash [Rash played Dean Pelton on “Community”] joke – that’s a bit that Jim used to do! Things like that, they’re just part of me and Danny’s vernacular at this point.
“Somebody I Used to Know” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video Feb. 10.