Director Kris Rey's back-to-school comedy I Used to Go Here has a lot to recommend. It falters badly in its final act but leading up to that, the film features laughs, heart, and some solid performances. One of the things it captures is the stark difference that there often is between what we think we will become after college and what life actually gives us.
Gillian Jacobs, in her best performance to date, plays Kate. Kate is a mid-thirties Chicago based writer who just got her first novel published, "Seasons Passed." It underperforms in a way that causes her publicists to drop her book tour so when her old college writing professor David (Jermaine Clement) invites her to speak about the book, she goes. We also learn early on that Kate was about to get married but her fiance left her and that her three best friends are all pregnant. Kate's life has her stuck returning to her youth feels like the only thing that makes some sense.
As David, Clement gives a performance that balances a genuine passion for teaching young writers with a slightly sleazy desire to sleep with some of them. It is clear he had a thing for Kate back in the day and she kind of wonders if his invite has a romantic motive. As Kate arrives, she is escorted around by the enthusiastically chipper Elliot (Rammel Chan). She gets settled in a bed and breakfast run by a stern woman. Kate does her reading and it goes okay. Her book is not well-written and she seems to know it. The film shifts here as Kate begins to hang out with a group of writing students who live in her old house.
The group of writing students provides many of the film's funnier scenes. A few veers into the ridiculous but what keeps I Used To Go Here grounded is Jacob's performance. She plays Kate as someone who knows her book stinks, that she is stuck trying to get over her ex and needs to be shaken out of all of it to be able to write anything successfully. However, she also doesn't really want to grow up in this way and willingly gets involved in reliving her college experience.
While the film can shift from a measured indie comedy to something far broader in tone during its final act, it never loses its focus on the main character. Thanks to Jacobs, Kate is a memorable portrait of someone who is a mess but is still worth rooting for. She is lost but not fully and in the end, you get a sense that she may slowly pull herself out of this.