SXSW 2020 Review: A Writer Looks for a New Ending in Kris Rey’s Refreshing “I Used to Go Here”

You can see how easy and comforting it is for Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs) to get lost in a world that she’s created for herself in “I Used to Go Here,” asked to describe her latest novel “Seasons Passed” to a friend (Kate Micucci) of her old friend Brad Cooper (Jorma Taccone) when she returns to her former stomping grounds at Illinois University and going into such vivid detail about her characters Calvin and Willoughby’s travails on the Eastern seaboard that she doesn’t realize the two have started making out in front of her. (She’s so aloof that she doesn’t know why her former classmate insists on not being called Bradley these days.) As much as she can use distractions now – the book tour for “Seasons Passed” has been cancelled after some poor early notices, as have her plans to get married, with her ex-fiance now refusing to return her calls — you begin to understand in Kris Rey’s lovely fourth feature that they have gotten in the way of where she wants to be as much as providing inspiration for her path as a writer.

Like Rey’s previous film “Unexpected,” which featured Cobie Smulders as a teacher who was able to take solace in her own unplanned pregnancy when she becomes close to one of her students going through one herself, Kate finds that she is less in tune with people of her own age than the generation that came after, those who have their whole lives still ahead of them and the chance to make different decisions than she did. In the college town of Carbondale where she’s been invited for a reading by her former professor David Kirkpatrick (Jemaine Clement), Kate’s looked up to as a published author by hungry students like Hugo (Josh Wiggins), April (Hannah Marks) and Animal (Forrest Goodluck), a respite from Chicago where she’s one in a million struggling writers, and Rey gracefully shows how compliments can unwittingly hit the wrong chord when she knows better from experience or worse, she’s started taking away only the worst things from what she hears.

Jacobs brings just the right amount of sunniness to Kate while expressing the storm going on inside, setting the tone for a comedy that carries real weight while being light on its feet. Rey has a knack for creating inviting, casual narratives that come across their story beats effortlessly and the colorful work of a team that includes production designer Megan Hovany, costume designer Kate Grube, cinematographer Nate Hurtsellers (who provided a similarly vibrant, sensitive camera on “Saint Frances”) and extends to the buoyant score from Curtis Heath (with contributions from Star Parks) strike just the right mood between reality and fiction, the same headspace Kate seems to be in. The slightly heightened style of the film also happens to be ideal for easing audiences into a third act turn towards more broadly hilarious shenanigans, comparing favorably to local legend John Hughes’ mid-career capers where the film is unafraid to go for the big laugh while wearing its even bigger heart on its sleeve. Not only does “I Used to Go Here” deliver a satisfying climax as far as its comic potential is concerned, but as the plot machinations fall away, the deft realization that in trying to regain control over her own life, Kate may have to loosen the grip she has over her own narrative from time to time and although that may be an ongoing struggle for her, that recognition is the sign of a brilliant storyteller in Rey.

“I Used to Go Here” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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