You would be forgiven for thinking that Someone Great, the latest romantic comedy from Netflix, was set in the ’90s heyday of the genre instead of right now. The protagonist is a journalist for a music magazine. She and her friends live in New York City. They all have beautiful apartments outfitted with just the right amount of boho accessories, and their clothing budgets are admirable. There’s a lot of sex happening, and heart to hearts about whether people are ready to settle down, and many jokes about how turning 30 is like dying. I felt very ancient while watching Someone Great because I am 31 and apparently I am close to death!
But no, Someone Great is set in our present day—like, it might have even taken place this day, this thing is so of the current moment—and that setting gives this film both its greatest moments and its weakest ones. It’s a movie that will make you feel exceptionally seen, and so then it hurts even more when the film lacks forward movement for certain tropes and clichés. And yet it’s refreshing, again, to see Netflix extending opportunities to female filmmakers. Director and writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson delivers many recognizable moments with her debut, from its understanding of the dualities of female friendship to its fantastic soundtrack. Although Someone Great itself isn’t perfect, it’s clear Robinson is one to watch. (If this movie gets a sequel, though, it should really get a female director for the follow-up, too. We don’t need another To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before situation.)
Someone Great begins in the past, with a couple in their early 20s. Jenny Young (Gina Rodriguez, effectively bubbly and then nihilistic) and Nate Davis (LaKeith Stanfield, not used enough in the film but magnetic onscreen) are deeply infatuated with each other—she’s a fast talker, someone who keeps up a steady stream of dialogue, while Nate is happy to watch her, to observe, to chime in every so often. They meet her best friends at a local bar, the precise but low-key wild Blair Helms (Brittany Snow) and the bombastic and loyal Erin Kennedy (DeWanda Wise), and they do shots and joke about the Postal Service and compliment ASAP Rocky and seem so young, so fresh-faced, so ready to take on the world.
A few years later? The best friends are all crushing it professionally: Blair is running her own digital marketing company, Erin is a successful real estate agent (“God bless the middle-aged whites; getting paid is like reparations”), and Jenny has just accepted a job leading a team of writers at Rolling Stone, for which she’ll have to move across the country to San Francisco. But their romantic lives all need work. Blair is with an exceptionally bland guy (Alex Moffat, from Saturday Night Live) who alternately babies or mothers her. Erin has spent the past few months seeing a woman she adores, but she refuses to acknowledge that she’s interested in settling down (the film’s “Erin is a commitment-phobic lesbian” stereotype is unfortunate). And after nine years, Jenny and Nate have broken up, sending her into a tumble of despair—she can’t stop drinking, she can’t stop crying, and she needs her girls for one final night on the town before moving 3,000 miles away.
What that sets up is a romantic comedy staple, the One Last Hurrah, and Jenny dictates the terms. She wants to hit up a music show that had been a regular event for the women, but what she doesn’t share is that Nate might be there. She presents the breakup as entirely one-sided to Erin and Blair, but we see through flashbacks that Jenny might have been equally responsible—maybe more so. And there are various tangential characters that pop up throughout, like the guy Jenny used to crush on in college and Nate’s glamorous cousin (Rosario Dawson!), who inspire other memories of their relationship, additional glimpses into what was right in the beginning and what ended up going wrong.
What works in Someone Great is the believability of the friend trio: Although like so many movies, each of these girls is a Type, their shared pop culture references and breeziness with each other goes a long way. They sing along to Selena in a bodega and get hyped to Lizzo. They listen to Lorde, Vampire Weekend, Twin Shadow, Mitski, OutKast, Missy Elliott, Big Freedia, and Jessie Reyez; the songs nearly always accompany scene changes, which is initially exciting. They talk about Harry Potter and Time’s Up. When Erin critiques one of Jenny’s outfits, she describes it as “Liz Lemon fucked a Salvation Army.” There’s a makeover montage that involves copious amounts of twerking. They smoke a lot of weed, they hang out with their drug dealer (RuPaul, in a great cameo), they hook up and they fight and they make dumb choices. This all feels very 2019, doesn’t it? And in typical romantic comedy fashion, at least one of them settles down monogamously by the end of the film, communicating that the best way to be an adult is someone who leaves all that messiness behind.
The movie’s persistent argument that you should have your shit together by 30 feels incongruous to everything else about it. For most of its runtime, Someone Great makes the argument that women can do whatever they want, be as sexually open and professionally ambitious as they desire, and that’s refreshing! That’s the mentality that is making other female-focused movies like Booksmart transform their genres from the inside out! But by the end, when it becomes clear that everything will wrap with a typical “Everything gets better in your 30s” message, something feels a little off in Someone Great, like when you perfectly apply some lipgloss and then your hair gets stuck in it and it smears all over your face. It’s not perfect! And although Someone Great isn’t flawless either, it’s often charming, consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and gives us great lines like “Grief is an emotion best served with a side of stiff dick.” Watch it on girls’ night or after a boozy brunch, and keep an eye out for what Robinson does next.
Someone Great is currently streaming on Netflix.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix Media Center, Netflix Media Center