Take it from the professor writing this review: the fall 2020 semester is likely to be the strangest college term in living memory. Ordinarily, the on-campus experience is a rich subject for film (Animal House) and television (“Grown-ish”), even if this semester will not be. Because college makes such a ready-at-hand setting for screen culture, the catalog of films set on campuses is massive. It’s hard to make an original film set on campus and equally difficult to make one that stands out, even if it’s really just riffing on tried-and-true tropes; an example of the latter would be Old School, which does nothing remotely new but manages to find fans because of Will Ferrell’s singular comedic genius.

The seen-it-already-and-saw-it-again-besides nature of the campus film is the only thing really holding back I Used to Go Here. Overall, this is a funny, well-paced film about a mid-30-something writer who’s having very little success professionally and personally. It’s astutely edited, mostly well-acted and has a large cast with diverse backstories and credibly amusing side plots. But to many film viewers, it’ll just look like warmed-over leftovers of other films we’ve already seen. Most specifically, it features nearly exactly the same protagonist, inciting events and plot progression as the 2012 film Liberal Arts.

On one level, this is not so bad, as Liberal Arts was generally well-regarded. But on another level, I Used to Go Here is bound to look worse in a comparison with Liberal Arts because the new film cannot marshal the star power of the older one. Liberal Arts featured Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Olsen, Allison Janney and Josh Radnor at peak How I Met Your Mother fame, while I Used to Go Here has Gillian Jacobs from “Community” and no one else recognizable. Viewers familiar with both films are likely to favor Liberal Arts.

Which is a shame, as I Used to Go Here has some fun moments. The premise is that Jacobs’ character—Kate—is nominally a successful adult professional, having just published her first novel. But when we scratch beneath the surface, it’s obvious she is anything but a success. Her book is a bomb, her only adult romantic relationship has crashed into rancor and embarrassment and she doesn’t really have any idea what to do next—that is, until she receives a call from a former professor inviting her to return to her alma mater to do a reading from her novel. What ensues is an at-times funny, at-times deliberately cringy trainwreck of a campus visit where Kate bonds with people way too young to be her friends, comes to terms with the fact that she both is and is not a loser and has a sort of personal epiphany that allows her to continue with her life.

This is all good except that it’s nearly identical to Liberal Arts, without the literary references and lived-in authenticity that film gained from being set at a real college (Kenyon College, which both Radnor and Janney attended) rather than one made up for the film. That unavoidable feeling of comparison drags I Used to Go Here down, again and again.

Summary
It’s hard to make an original film set on campus and equally difficult to make one that stands out.
55 %
No Pass
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