With her upcoming book promo tour cancelled due to poor sales and still feeling the sting of a recent break up, Kate Conklin (Jacobs) is at a low ebb in her life. Her spirits are lifted when her favorite creative writing professor David (Jemaine Clement) reaches out with an invite to do a reading at her alma mater. She hasn’t been to Carbondale, Illinois in fifteen years but she hopes a trip down memory lane might be the tonic she needs.
In town memories come flooding back. The only change at her old frat house, nicknamed the Writer’s Retreat, are the faces on the students. It is otherwise frozen in time. Even the glow-in-the-dark stars she glued to her bedroom ceiling are still in place. David, her one-time mentor, is still an encouraging voice and an old friend with the unlikely name of Bradley Cooper (Jorma Taccone) still works at the campus bookstore.
But it’s not all déjà vu. Hanging out with some of the new students Kate has a rebirth. Given the time to reflect on the recent downturns in her life she is transported back to her school years, a time when risks were taken and the future seemed ripe with possibilities.
“I Used to Go Here” avoids the clichés of many other college comedies. A professor-student subplot isn’t played for its salacious value but as a comment on #MeToo’s power structure, and there is a bittersweet quality to much of the humour.
Jacobs is the above-the-title star here. She’s very good, providing the movie’s heart while painting Kate as someone who has lost her way on the path to recovery, but this is an ensemble piece filled with nice supporting performances.
Clement brings a rumpled charm as a professor who chose the security of academia over the real world of writing for a living. As Kate’s student guide Elliot, Rammel Chan is a welcome comedic presence and the group of college kids Kate befriends, played by Forrest Goodluck, Brandon Daley and Khloe Janel, are affable, compassionate and real. Of the younger actors it’s Josh Wiggins as Hugo, the empathetic wannabe writer who makes the biggest impression. His observation that, “Just because a connection with a person doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it’s not real,” could have sounded ripped from the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel but is delivered with a sincerity that transforms it into an insightful comment on the weight that is keeping Kate down.
Writer/director Kris Rey clearly relishes spending time with “I Used to Go Here’s” characters and gives each of them a clear-cut role in moving the story, and Kate’s life, forward. It makes for an engaging set piece, specific to its setting but universal in its outlook.