Movie review: Someone Great

(image courtesy IMP awards)

Is it possible to be both light and frothy and say something about the human condition?

Especially if you’re a romantic comedy, a genre known for its romantic froth-and-bubble but not great existential musings on life, the universe and everything?

Someone Great, part of the ever-increasing cascade of films from Netflix, would seem to suggest that not only is it possible, but that if done well, and the film most certainly is, that it actually throw some unexpected emotional resonance into the bargain.

Centred around music journalist Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) who has just been offered her dream job with august music bible Rolling Stone, the film explores what happens when life, as it inevitably must, begins to change out of all shape and recognition, and you’re forced to either adapt and go with the flow, or futilely resist and hope something worthwhile is left standing in the aftermath.

The catalyst for this great life change, in Jenny’s case at least, is the fact that her new people-managing role is way over on the other coast (San Francisco to be exact) from her current long-time home New York, far away from her besties Erin (DeWanda Wise, who is magnificent) and Blair (Brittany Snow) and, as it turns out, boyfriend of nine years, Nate (Lakeith Stanfield).

Fully expecting that Nate will come with her, Jenny is forced to confront the fact that the man she met at a party and almost instantly fell in love with at college – all her major friendships stem from the pivotal point in time – is no longer in sync with her and that her life, her big, brand new, habit-busting life, is going to have to carry on without him.

(image via YouTube (c) Netflix)

It’s a massive wrench, how could it not be, and in the fallout that follows a disastrous social outing where Jenny and Nate, one the very essence of Cupid’s starstruck lovers, fight and breakup, the west coast dweller to be is forced to confront the fact that it’s not just a new job in the offing but a whole new, fully-reconstructed phase of her life.

This realisation is met with much drunkenness and drug use, as she and her besties, wisecracking Erin, queen of the brilliantly-delivered oneliners (“You’re making me feel things, like a motherfucking Pixar film”) and repressed but want to bust out Blair, whose own relationship is teetering on the edge of the moved-on abyss, set out for one big last day and night in New York.

Of course, everyone is able to get out of work easily, even Blair who is dragged out on the most audacious of pretexts, and time seems to elongate to such narrative-accommodating elastic lengths that you wonder at what point it will spring back and whack someone in the face, but who cares – this is a rom-com and life is meant to suspend the hell out of disbelief in these circumstances.

And suspend it does, with a weepy Jenny, mourning the loss of a relationship that she finally comes to understand was long dead anyway, trying and failing to come to terms with a rapid change in the configuration of her life.

It may sound like therapy-laden downer of a day but in the hands of director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, it is gussied-up with musical montages (the soundtrack is superbly well-curated, the perfect accompaniment to the story at pretty much every point), extravagant fashion choices, the lure of a high profile, gotta-be-there dance party, and a slew of bit parts such as that of RuPaul as dandy drug dealer Hype, all of which come together in a confection that is all things light, bright and wonderful.

Well, on the surface at least.

Percolating through all of this technicolour escapist fun and diversion is the ever-encompassing sense that this is it, the end of everything Jenny, Erin and Blair have ever known.

It might be fun now, but life’s piper will come a-calling, demanding payment and demanding, as it must, that the shape and feel of things change markedly in the lead-up to their thirties.

For Jenny, awash in tears, vodka and ridiculous amounts of weeds, the changes are pretty obvious but Erin and Blair must also grapple with the rearranging of their existential furniture.

(image via YouTube (c) Netflix)

Erin, all sass, fun and sharp but loving words, is facing up to the fact that she may have found the woman of her dreams in funky fashion shop owner Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones), which while ecstatically-good on paper, means she has to quite pretending she is in her early twenties and damn near indestructible.

On the other end of live’s life cycle, Blair is finally faces up to the fact that her relationship with Will (Alex Moffat) has run its course, shedding chemistry and vivacity and leaving empty shallow habits in its wake.

Torn by sexual and romantic tension with Jenny’s old college boyfriend Matt (Peter Vack), who is smarmy but ultimately facing up to his big life choices, Blair has to deal with the fact that her expected trajectory is going to look a lot different to previous assumptions.

Jumping adroitly between Jenny’s memories of the start, middle and ending of her dreamy relationship with Nate, and the girls’ big day and night out, Someone Great is a gloriously-compulsive, and fun (even if does try a little too hard at times to be edgy) romp that is marvellous mix of glossy rom-com escapism and some serious musings on life, the universe and nearing-thirty everything.

That it manages to balance these two, you would think mutually-exclusive narrative demands is impressive, making it a film that belies it pretty, glossy, happy, dialogue snappy trappings and a visual aesthetic that screams fantasy New York, with some reasonably deep thinking (and hilariously drug-addled self-awareness) about what you do when life upends itself and you have to pick yourself up and find a way forward without any or all of your once-dependable touchstones.

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