Chicago writer and director Kris Rey’s newest film “I Used to Go Here” depicts Chicagoan Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs) as a mediocre author who has published her first book to less than favorable reviews. However, a former writing professor, David (Jemaine Clement) at Southern Illinois University Carbondale invites her to speak at her alma mater. Boosted slightly by this, Kate returns, but soon finds herself enmeshed in students’ lives, reliving her past and coming to terms with her present and her future.
Kate’s superficial confidence with the lack thereof bubbling just beneath the surface is the the attribute which allows her to change over the course of the film. 10 years have passed since she graduated and each and every interaction with students punctuates her lack of success and how time quickly flies by. The students look up to her, but deep down she knows she doesn’t deserve their respect that is until she connects with Hugo (Josh Wiggins), a student who lives in her old house and has her old room. From this point, Kate ingratiates herself into their world, attempting to turn back the hands of time.
Jacobs portrays Kate beautifully as a woman who has been recently dumped and her life is in neutral, but she’s looking for a way to shift things into high gear and on the right path. Her ability to hone in on the awkwardness of each and every situation finds just the right note of humor to make you not only laugh, but also connect with her.
The secondary stories within the film all support Kate’s story arc, but they also add humor and heart to the film. April’s role (Hannah Marks) provides the mirror image for Kate which instigates jealousy and anger. But looking in the mirror, she is also able to finally see her reflection which provides one of the most poignant moments in the film. Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley) is just downright funny and his connection with Hugo’s mom is at once strange and hilarious providing balance within the story as Kate begins to wake up to the realities of her past. Wiggnins is a standout as Hugo with an incredibly natural performance that is both witty and charming. He also finds a level of unexpected maturity that is authentically portrayed giving his character depth and complexity.
Rarely do you find just attention to detail in supporting characters that become equally important to the lead role, but Rey expertly does so. She also has a comedic knack for how we all perceive our pasts, but it is with Kate’s former crush on David that really accentuates how our memories sometimes deceive us. Seeing someone through experienced and adult eyes is jarring when our memory recalls a less jaded viewpoint; one filled with hope and the power of youth. Within all of these actions and interactions, Kate, in her own way, grows up.
Rey’s wisdom within the film is like looking into a crystal ball that comedically yet poignantly tells one woman’s life story. Who doesn’t look back on our college years and wish we had the wisdom of life’s experiences now to impart on our younger selves? And Rey deftly commits to this storyline with a character who is lovable yet at the same time we shake our heads at her decisions and laugh.
I Used to Go Here is a film that many of us can relate to, but if you went to SIU-C, you’re going to truly walk down memory lane. Rey’s succinct story telling creates an innovative and entertaining film, but with Jacobs in the lead role this movie becomes an even more memorable one.