Yes, You Can Go Home Again: Creative (and Life) Partners Dave Franco and Alison Brie on New Romcom of Identity and Choices

The charming picture is a showcase for Brie's many talents—superb timing, an enjoyable grasp of the absurd and deft human comedy.

17 mins read

In the new romantic comedy Somebody I Used to Know (Prime Video, February 10), Alison Brie stars as a successful Hollywood journalist facing a professional crisis who returns to her hometown of Leavenworth, Washington, to plan her next move. What she doesn’t expect, after regrouping with her high school circle of friends, are her lingering, inconvenient feelings for her soon-to-be-married ex (Jay Allen). Should she confess her affections? Try to stop the wedding? Go with the flow of the not-quite happy couple?

Co-written by the married creative team of Brie and other half Dave Franco, who also directed, Somebody I Used to Know takes a romcom setup and asks questions about life choices and whether we can go home again—and if so, who are we supposed to be once we’re back in the old clique and the safety of our doting mother’s (Julie Haggerty) arms? What happens next? Have we made the right decisions?

I recently met Dave Franco and Alison Brie at Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel for a chat about their charming new picture, one that gives Mad Men and Community alum Brie (who also delivered a knockout, brief turn in 2020’s Promising Young Woman) a showcase for her many talents—superb timing, an enjoyable grasp of the absurd and deft human comedy. Appearing in nearly every scene of the film, the star is smart, wise and in a few good-cheer moments, comically exposed with nerve and verve. Together in person, Dave Franco and Alison Brie are appealingly simpatico, laughing heartily and finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences, clearly having a ball in life and work.

Lee Shoquist: I found Somebody I Used to Know funny but also thoughtful in asking universal questions: Can you ever really go home again? Did you make the right choices in life? What expectations should we have of a partner? The film struck a nice balance between entertainment and insight.

Dave Franco: Thank you for saying that!

Sure. It would be great to hear a bit about how you wrote this together, perhaps with those goals in mind.

Alison Brie: Well, we have acted together twice and worked together on Dave’s directorial debut, The Rental, and that was sort of this clear shift to us in terms of how well that dynamic does for us. It was so fun being on set with Dave directing me. It was really the first film that he had written. I felt so comfortable and at home. And I had written my first film, named Horse Girl, and we both were starting to tap into this stuff on the other side of the camera. We had such a great experience on The Rental that we were like, ‘Let’s write something together!’ And a romcom seemed like the obvious choice for our collaboration.

DF: Why do you say that?

AB: Because I love romcoms so much! I’ve done for romcoms with you what you have done with horror for me.

DF: Yes. We converted each other! We are massive fans of both genres.

AB: Yeah!

DF: And just in terms of the themes you are talking about, we actually conceived of the idea while walking around my hometown of Palo Alto. I think maybe subconsciously these ideas of going home and reconnecting with your roots and almost confronting who you used to be with who you are now. I think all of that just seeped into the story.

AB: Definitely.

Alison, you’re very funny in the film. I am not sure if you can articulate this, but as a comedienne onscreen, can you speak a bit about your style? I find you to be sort of like Diane Keaton; you have that same manic energy and it’s fun to watch.

AB: (Laughs) What a compliment! What a complimentary comparison!

I wonder if you can share a bit about your comedy work in this film. You always seem to be on the edge of something funny. I think you could make comedy out of almost anything.

AB: Thank you so much! I think that I honed a lot of that during my years getting to work with so many funny people on Community. Everybody brought a different comic sensibility to the table on that show. It was like a comedy masterclass—I was always studying. I think my natural sense of humor is kind of silly, but Dave really grounds me and reminds me that it should be character based!

DF: Well, for this specific project!

I am really drawn to physical comedy. But it is always important to me that it comes from a grounded place.

-Alison Brie

AB: I am really drawn to physical comedy. But it is always important to me that it comes from a grounded place and the truth is that I treat all of my comedic performances the same as my dramatic performances.

DF: Yes, which is why I think she is able to navigate so seamlessly back and forth between the comedic and more serious moments. It does not feel jarring when you go from one to the other, and I think she is very unique in that way.

AB: Yes, if the character is always being true to themselves in a given moment. Maybe the physicality sometimes gets a little wacky, but it’s always coming from a true place.

Speaking of the serious moments, there are some great scenes between Jay Allen, Kiersey Clemons and yourself in the second half of the film. For example, the moment where you interview Jay on camera and he is speaking directly to you, and then the scene with Kiersey behind the hotel room door. I found those relationships interesting and unpredictable. I think a movie like this works because we like and care about the people. For me, it was slightly unexpected but very welcome. You could make an interesting film about each one of them.

DF: I love everything you are saying (laughter)! We wanted to make sure that every character, but especially the three main characters, felt very well-rounded in terms of where they were all going. They are all making some questionable decisions but you understand why. They are all human and relatable and going through something intense in their own ways, and so when it gets towards the end of the film it is all coming to a head, and there are many complicated emotions bouncing off each other. But in the end, we did not want any villains. It would have been easy to make Jay’s character a villain where they turn against him. I think that would have been more expected. But it was like, “How do we do this in a way…

AB: …where we don’t take the easy way out?” I also think it was important to us that every character had a rich, complex backstory even if we didn’t delve into it. For example, when Danny Pudi’s character mentions his breakup.

And there’s another line where Jay mentions being abandoned as a child.

AB: Yes! Jay’s character is adopted and while that doesn’t completely define him, it is a big part of his motivations and fears.

DF: And even thinking about the smaller characters, like the one played by Haley Joel Osment, who is kind of a clown and makes jokes and is a bit silly, by the end you see that he is a family man who loves his wife and child, and Jay’s character looks up to him because of that. That is all Jay has ever wanted and his silly brother actually has that!

You’ve got some great comediennes in the film, including Amy Sedaris, the great Julie Haggerty (laughter). Again, when we talk about making something funny—her performance in Lost in America is an all-timer!

DF: Oh yes!

You also have the great actress Olga Merediz. How did they all come to the film? You liked them and just asked them?

DF: Yes, all so great!

AB: Sheer luck!

DF: Yes! Essentially, they were our top choices across the board and we got really lucky.

AB: Julie and Olga are both playing these roles loosely based on our own moms. Nothing specific! But sort of…

DF: Not necessarily the sexual stuff but… (laughter)

AB: But my mom is “JoJo”—her name is Joanne and she has that kind of effervescence to her. Dave’s mom is kind of kooky.

DF: She has a natural quirkiness!

 I feel especially lucky to be able to build these projects from the ground up with my wife, where we can go off to whatever location, with our two cats, and it is just this little traveling family.

-Dave Franco

But no third-grade teacher in the picture, right?

AB: There’s no third-grade teacher in the picture at this point (laughter)! It was an interesting challenge for both of them, and each brought such warmth to their characters and an effortless comedic sensibility. With Julie, she can so effectively tow that line between being so funny and turn on a dime to being very emotional. One of my favorite scenes is the one she and I share near the end of the movie—a big moment for my character—and you feel that warmth emanating from her. And then there’s a joke right back in there.

DF: But that is actually how she is in person, too.

AB: Absolutely.  

DF: She was only on set for three days and we fell in love with her. She was our surrogate mom. We still text with her and we talk. Alison went on a hike with her.

AB: Yes, we went to lunch! And Olga is such a pro and is able to turn it up or down. She is so in tune with her comedic instrument. So we had a lot of fun playing with the comedy levels that were coming from her and how buoyant her JoJo was going to be at any moment. She is so specific about it—ten percent this way or that way; she is just so tuned in.

DF: But she just had the energy of the matriarch. In the movie, everyone looks up to JoJo and feeds off her energy and she is setting the tone for the whole weekend. So we needed someone who had that infectious energy.

AB: Yes, she is a bit like the camp counselor of the weekend! She heads up every event.

Dave, I think we sat in the same room here ten years ago…

DF: For which movie?  

Now You See Me.

DF: Amazing! Yeah, yeah.

At the time, you told me that you felt lucky to “still be doing this” each time you would get a job. Now you are actually at a point in your career where it is less about luck; you are making strategic decisions at a higher level. What has that route up been like for you over the last ten years?

DF: I mean, I still do feel that way (laughter)! I feel lucky with every job. I feel especially lucky to be able to build these projects from the ground up with my wife, where we can go off to whatever location, with our two cats, and it is just this little traveling family, so I don’t miss home and I have the comfort of the people I love around me. It is really nice to go back and forth between directing and acting. Directing is all-consuming and takes up years of your life, and I absolutely love it. But at the same time, since I started directing I have enjoyed acting more than ever because it is also nice that you can show up on set and be like, ‘Oh, I’ve got one job? I’m going to kill it for you!’ So the balance is really nice and keeps me sane.

I have to ask if Third Eye Blind is significant to both of you.

AB: It is now! Honestly, who is it not significant to?!

One of my very favorite 90s bands.

AB: And from high school for both of us!

DF: I didn’t know it at the time, but I found out that the lead singer (Stephen Jenkins) grew up in Palo Alto, where I am from!

AB: So there was a nice connection there.

DF: It’s timeless! You can’t help but bop your head to it!

Alison, I’d be remiss not to mention that I genuinely admired your work in Promising Young Woman. Your restaurant scene was riveting.

AB: Oh, thank you so much! Thank you for mentioning that! 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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