The one trap most young adults have to learn not to fall into is measuring their success in life by comparison with where their peers are. But that is the trap that budding novelist Kate (Gillian Jacobs) falls into at the start of I Used To Go Here.
What should be a heady time for her, spirals downward rapidly in the wake of her engagement falls apart and her publisher decides to cancel her book promotion tour. Attending her best friends baby shower does little to raise her spirits when she realizes that she is the only unmarried, and unpregnant, woman there. When she receives an invitation from her old college mentor David Kirkpatrick (Flight Of The Chonchords‘s Jemaine Clement) to speak to his current crop of writing students, she jumps at the chance, hoping that by being around students brimming with the optimism about the future that she once felt might recharge herself. But once back in her Illinois college town, she finds herself disconnected from the students, still unable to find the self-validation that she is looking for.
At its core, I Used To Go Here is a movie about self-doubt. Kate is struggling with Imposter Syndrome, unsure of her own abilities and that fuels the unfair apples-to-oranges comparisons that she makes when she sees her peers in happy relationships, building families, etcetera. Even when she has the opportunity to retreat into the physical comfort of a tryst with David, she remains unsure if she even deserves that small fleeting moment. While she feels like a failure due to her set backs, the writing students view her as a success because she managed to get published at all. Kate, however, can’t see that in herself.
Anyone who has ever returned to their old college campuses after some time have probably experienced that feeling of the familiar mixed with the strange, new buildings standing where open fields or parking lots once were, old, familiar edifices overshadowed by newer ones. The differences are enough to thrown someone like Kate who is searching for a bit of stability and comfort off kilter.
Unfortunately, what starts as a character-driven comedy takes a detour into some unnecessarily plot-heavy territory as Kate and some of the students set out on a mission to catch a professor in flagrante delicto with one of his students. The shift from the more gentle tone of the film into a higher gear of hijinks feels jarring and abrupt. The diversion does nothing to further illuminate Kate or move her along her journey more so than it feels like something to help pad out the screenplay to feature length.
Jacobs, feeling like she is playing a riff on her character Britta from the TV series Community, is good here with what she is given. Writer-director Kris Rey’s script doesn’t give Kate much depth, but Jacobs manages to flesh her out to three dimensions. The work here is not as complex as her portrayal of a woman dealing with addiction on the Netflix series Love, but it is much of the glue that holds the film together for its short, 80-minute run time.