If you’re ever in the market for a friendly, down-to-earth Hollywood actress, you won’t find anyone more warm and exuberant than Alison Brie.
“I’ll give you guys the twirl,” Brie said as she stood on her chair, making sure that her head-to-toe cheetah print outfit was on full display.
“Show us! Show us! Show us!” Jay Ellis, of Issa Rae’s “Insecure” fame, encouraged his co-star. In a Zoom interview with The Daily Californian, Brie, Ellis and director Dave Franco exchanged heartfelt laughs and clever quips as they discussed the inner workings of their new romantic comedy “Somebody I Used To Know.”
For those who aren’t in the know, Brie and Franco have been happily married for six years and counting. They’ve previously worked together on set, but “Somebody I Used To Know” marks their first screenwriting collaboration.
“The way it actually looked was me at the computer typing away and Alison kinda pacing back and forth,” Franco said. “I would say to her, ‘Alright, what would you say in this scenario?’ and she would just start improvising and acting it out. I would write down every word she was saying, and we would go back and forth in that way. It was really fun.”
The film follows Ally (Alison Brie), a newly jobless documentarian as she visits her hometown of Leavenworth, Washington. Amid the tall, enchanting pine trees and cozy Bavarian architecture, Ally stumbles upon affable yet stubborn ex-boyfriend Sean (Jay Ellis) and reignites their spark.
“We were definitely influenced by some of the classic romantic comedies from the ’80s and ’90s — movies like ‘When Harry Met Sally’ (and) ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding,’ ” Franco said. “They’re movies about real people going through real issues. They’re grounded, and there’s something charming and comforting about that.”
In typical rom-com fashion, Ally goes all in on the reunion with Sean, hoping that rekindling things will make her feel whole again. But when she shows up at his childhood home uninvited, the desperate filmmaker is surprised to learn that in just a few days, the one that got away will be married to hot new fiancee and aspiring rockstar Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons).
One might expect that the narrative of a movie with such an orthodox premise would follow an equally trite playout. But with nudism, queer intimacy and unexpected friendships, “Somebody I Used To Know” manages to subvert convention and avoid the patriarchal pitfalls of other films in its genre.
“Alison and I genuinely love romantic comedies,” Franco explained. “We used what we know and love about the genre to lead the audience down a certain path where they might think, ‘Oh, I know what’s gonna happen.’ And then we tried to pull the rug out from under them every step of the way.”
“Am I jealous of this person? Am I identifying with her? Do I want to be her? Do I hate her? Do I want to have sex with her? Do I admire her? Am I inspired by her?” Brie said of the film’s nuanced approach to representing femininity. “I am really drawn to telling stories about relationships between women. I am fascinated by it. I love it. I love how they can take on so many forms and two things can happen at the same time.”
Having starred on the three-season hit comedy-drama series “GLOW” about a feisty female wrestler, Brie was delighted for another opportunity to promote some quintessential girl power. But the film wasn’t just a treat for the fierce feminist. A graduate of Concordia University in Oregon, Ellis explained that filming in the woodsy Pacific Northwest brought out his own feelings of nostalgia.
“I went to college in Portland, Oregon, so for me, getting to go back was a lot of fun. I was living it. It was crazy. It was a lot of fun for sure.”
But like Ally’s and Sean’s withered relationship, all good things must come to an end. When the creators of “Somebody I Used to Know” called it a wrap, Ellis felt empty when bidding the lively set farewell.
“It’s always this disorienting feeling — trying to get back to a normal routine,” said Ellis. “You come home; it’s quiet, and you feel like you’re supposed to be doing stuff, but there’s nothing to do.”
Perhaps, coincidentally, the antidote to the actor’s dismay rests in the underlying message of “Somebody I Used to Know.” Referencing the film’s uplifting story and, presumably, his multifaceted relationship with Brie, Franco had some advice regarding love’s capacity to mend career-oriented troubles.
“There’s a lot of ideas about work-life balance in the film,” Franco said. “I think we’re trying to say that you can have both. You don’t have to choose one or the other. And hopefully, you find someone — a partner — who understands you so that you can be your truest self.”