Contrary to conventional wisdom, you can go home again. But you might not feel at home when you get there.
That’s the premise — and, ultimately, the point — of I Used to Go Here, writer-director Kris Rey’s genial, generally insightful character study of a flailing writer whose return to her small-town alma mater provides a temporary escape from her collapsing life.
None of this is remotely a spoiler; Rey briskly sketches the situation as the opening credits roll.
Kate Conklin (wry, winsome Gillian Jacobs) has just published her debut novel; as she strides through her Chicago neighborhood, she’s on the phone with the publisher’s suspiciously gushy publicists.
They assure her that “everyone here loves the book,” then inform her that her book tour (ah, the good old pre-pandemic days!) has been canceled due to weak sales.
Kate’s toting a box back to her apartment, but it’s not full of books. It’s full of invitations to a wedding — hers — that’s no longer happening.
So she’s both relieved and grateful when her former creative writing professor (Jemaine Clement) invites her back to campus for the downstate university’s “Distinguished Alumni Reading Series.”
An impossibly chirpy student host (Rammel Chan) greets Kate at the train station. Next stop: the bed-and-breakfast where she’ll be staying with someone far less hospitable (a pricelessly crusty Cindy Gold).
Across the leafy street is her old college abode, which she dubbed “The Writers’ Retreat” 15 years ago in honor of the creative writing majors sharing the house.
The aspiring writers who live there now are mighty impressed — and, truth be told, a bit bemused — by the sudden arrival of someone who’s actually published a real live book.
What takes place over the course of the next few days takes Kate into expectedly unexpected territory as she struggles to emerge from her self-described “limbo.”
Throughout, Rey’s script sometimes connects its dots too directly and her comedic plot complications can be a bit sophomoric. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
But she’s got an undeniable flair for sardonic repartee, delivered by a winning cast — notably earnest Josh Wiggins as a smitten student and the nimble Clement as the professor who’s hardly worthy of his students’ esteem.
None of this may be mind-blowingly revelatory. But at least it’s sharply observed, ruefully amusing and consistently engaging.
Which is more than we can say for (far too) many movies these days.