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Ten years ago, Ally (Alison Brie) left her boyfriend and their small, rural hometown to make documentaries in Los Angeles. Now, after three years as showrunner of a trashy reality show that crosses "Survivor," "The Great British Baking Show," and "Love Island," she tells herself that "it's just like making a documentary, except that people watch it." Her most reliable trick is staying silent for ten seconds after an interview subject stops speaking. She has learned that is when the viewer-favorite revelations come, the ones with tears, raw confessions, or anger.
But it is no longer enough. Two network executives, played by the always-hilarious Sam Richardson and Zoe Chao (also of this week's "Your Place or Mine"), cancel the series. The show has consumed Ally's entire life. It defines her. She has never taken those ten seconds to consider whether she's where she wants to be. With no idea of what to do next, she decides to go to the one place she was sure she didn't want to be, her hometown.
Ally then finds her mother (Julie Hagerty) in bed with a man and flees to a local bar, where she runs into Sean (a magnetic Jay Ellis), the ex she left behind to follow her dreams.
We know what the Hallmark Movie Channel version of this story would be. But Brie and her co-screenwriter, husband, and director Dave Franco like to subvert those conventions, as Brie did as co-writer for last year's "Spin Me Round." Brie likes to give her characters some humiliating setbacks. And, less successfully, she likes to satirize pop culture: in "Spin Me Round," it was chain restaurants and the people who run and like them; in this film, it's reality television. The heightened tone of those moments and a few other detours are a distraction from the otherwise-skillful establishment of more grounded connections and emotions.
But first, that Hallmark movie set-up.
Ally and Sean have a magical evening together, talking, laughing, and enjoying what seems like a random all-night Tyrolian festival, with alphorns and maypole dancing. Ally, feeling lost and alone, wonders if she can still have the life she once thought was not good enough for her.
Sean never wanted to leave his home, possibly because of a sense of abandonment by his biological parents he has struggled with, possibly because he is Black and his family is white. He is very attached to his family. Sean has gone to work for his father and built his dream home on his parents' property. His certainty and sense of community suddenly appeal to Ally. It feels very comfortable to settle back into the easy rhythm she has with Sean, and when she goes to his house to see him the next evening, with his family.
And then Ally learns that in two days, Sean is getting married to Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons of "Hearts Beat Loud"), who made the opposite decision to Ally's. Although Cassidy and Sean have known each other only six months, she's abandoning her successful career in the city as a punk rock singer (they opened for Sleater-Kinney) to live with him.
Sean's mother, JoJo (a wonderfully warm-hearted Olga Merediz), asks Ally to film the wedding, and Ally considers this a way to remind Sean that she's a better match for him. Cassidy is on to her immediately, asking if she plans to "My Best Friend's Wedding" the weekend. But Ally starts to warm to Cassidy, and after the punk group performs at the rehearsal dinner party, Ally starts to wonder whether it's Cassidy who is making the right decision.
Brie and Franco draw on an exceptional cast of supporting characters, including Hagerty, Merediz, Amy Sedaris, Brie's "Community" co-star Danny Pudi as Sean's best friend, and Haley Joel Osment as Sean's immature brother. Brie and Ellis have such appealing chemistry that we instantly believe in their whole backstory (we get a glimpse of their earlier time together in an old video), and Clemons continues to impress as both actor and singer. Brie is, as always, enormously appealing. She shows us that what matters here is not Sean, the person she used to know, but herself, the one she's just beginning to understand.
Now playing on Prime Video.
Alison Brie as Ally
Jay Ellis as Sean
Kiersey Clemons as Cassidy
Danny Pudi as Benny
Haley Joel Osment as Jeremy
Amy Sedaris as Deedee
Julie Hagerty as Libby
Olga Merediz as Joanne 'JoJo'
Zoë Chao as Ramona
Evan Jonigkeit as Chef Jamie
Ayden Mayeri as Kayla
Kelvin Yu as Christian