The parties, friendships and misadventures may dominate your memories, but you likely look back on your college years fondly in part because of the possibilities they symbolised. In I Used to Go Here, 35-year-old author Kate Conklin (Community’s Gillian Jacobs) gets the opportunity to revisit her alma mater, taking stock of where she’s been and where she’s headed. It’s a premise ripe with the possibility of sophomoric high jinks – and there are a few (as you might expect with The Lonely Island crew of Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone producing). But this film is more concerned with exploring why those formative years hold such an intoxicating allure – especially when it feels like your life is spiraling out of control.
The opening scenes find Kate in a moment of uncertainty, as she learns that the book tour to support her debut novel has abruptly been cancelled. In desperate need of an ego boost, she jumps at an invitation to speak at her former school, reuniting with her erstwhile English professor (Jemaine Clement) and staying in a cosy B&B across the street from her old college house. Kate is soon falling back into uni life, drinking pitchers at a local bar, befriending a group of students and puffing on a joint at a house party.
Writer-director Kris Rey’s script plays out like a homecoming fantasy, albeit one grounded in reality: there’s no comical frat hazing rituals or late-night streaking here. Instead, the smalltown campus acts as the backdrop for Kate’s fleeting regression to a version of her college self, as she grapples with the failure of her book and gets hung up on an ex-boyfriend who won’t text her back. I Used to Go Here smartly searches for levity instead of embracing melodrama, finding wry humour in Kate’s circumstances while acknowledging the improbability of a woman in her mid-thirties hanging out with a bunch of undergrads.
It’s all underpinned by a magnetic performance from Jacobs, who flaunts her rare knack for simultaneously exuding confidence and profound vulnerability. Even when the plot takes a turn for the absurd – as with a breaking-and-entering sequence perpetrated with her cohort of undergrads – she brings a real sense of inner struggle between her adult and student self.
Drawing on the familiar fuzzy nostalgia for student life, Rey crafts a simple yet compelling narrative that eschews the tropes favoured by films based in the world of higher education. Kate may attend house parties and float on a lake with a bunch of 21-year-olds, but those idyllic pastimes aren’t what she idealises – it’s the ambition and spontaneity of her youth that she’s trying to recapture in her adult life. I Used to Go Here offers a richly entertaining remedial course in the importance of recognising our own shortcomings, while understanding that our past doesn’t have to dictate our future.
Out in US cinemas and streaming sites on Fri Aug 7.