When we meet 35-year-old Kate (Gillian Jacobs), she’s on the other side of her happily ever after and it is not what it was cracked up to be. Sure, her novel was published, but to such little interest that the book tour has been cancelled. Her fiancé has left, just as all of her friends are getting pregnant. So when her old English professor, David (Jermaine Clement), invites Kate to do a reading at her alma mater, she leaps at the chance to escape her normal life for a long weekend. Once she gets there, however, she discovers there’s no escaping yourself.
What happens when you achieve your dreams and they end up being disappointing? That question is the guiding light of I Used To Go Here, from writer-director Kris Rey. The deflating nature of her disappointing dreams has made Kate bitter. Sitting in on one of David’s classes, a star student emerges: April (Hannah Marks), whose bruised and bruising poetry is miles ahead of her classmates’ amateurish efforts. Invited to mentor April, jealousy and self-loathing turn Kate into a monster, doling out nonsense advice (‘One word titles aren’t in vogue’) and liberal doses of condescension. Though she does end up regretting her treatment of the younger woman, her behaviour is an astute insight into the way that unhappiness with oneself tends to radiate outward.
It’s when the film wanders from the path of the disheartened that things start to get narratively messy. From the publicity and the casting, it appears as if the semi-romantic relationship between Kate and David is going to be the main thread here. In actuality, it doesn’t seem to matter all that much, and as such their scenes together don’t really go anywhere, and they distract from the more interesting central theme. In addition, it’s strange, particularly in our current climate, that sexual relationships between students and teachers are treated with such nonchalance.Also frustrating are the lengthy forays into broad comedy. A particularly egregious example is the tedious sequence where Kate and her new college-age friends break into David’s house. It serves no purpose other than to be funny. It isn’t funny, and, again, it breaks up the flow. That’s not to say that I Used To Go Here is devoid of humour – Rammel Chan, who plays the eternally optimistic student hired to drive Kate round for the weekend, is a hoot in every scene he’s in – but it all too often pulls the film off course for little comedic reward.
Rey drags I Used To Go Here back on track for the final act, answering the question she establishes early on. What do you do when you’ve realised your dreams and they’re underwhelming? You struggle on anyway. You keep moving forward. You embrace the final simple statement of hope spoken by Kate that’s true about pretty much everything: ‘It could be better’. Whilst Rey’s movie can be messy and unfocussed to a frustrating degree, there’s value in that unvarnished message of the importance of striving for improvement.