I watch no fewer than eight romantic comedies a month. The formula — a slightly outlandish meet-cute, some heady “will-they-or-won’t-they” moments, and conflict that never lasts for more than 20 minutes — makes my brain feel smooth, and I consume them as both workday background noise and an anxiety cure. The genre equivalent of The Comfy hoodie, the predictability of rom-coms is both cringeworthy and comforting.
Someone Great, the forgotten child of Netflix’s late 2010s bid to revitalize the romantic comedy, slots into the genre perfectly, despite working overtime to subvert the trope of slapdash romances. Namely, the love story happens in reverse. When music journalist Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) gets her dream job at the mythological San Francisco bureau of Rolling Stone, her boyfriend of nine years, Nate (Lakeith Stanfield), dumps her, leaving Jenny to enlist best friends Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise) on a quest for closure and concert tickets. Jenny and Nate’s relationship unwinds in neon-tinted flashbacks of passionate sex and arguments about ambition, bifurcating the film into a buddy comedy and a searing exploration of what it looks like to outgrow your partner without meaning to.
The latter plotline is what makes Someone Great the perfect late (or early, depending on who you ask) pandemic watch. If I had to guess, we’re all emerging from these last 17 months a little worse for wear. Co-quarantining killed relationships we thought would last forever, and the routine of work-sleep-repeat has us leaving careers we thought we’d have forever. In other words, life probably still feels shitty and uncertain to most people, and it’s reassuring to watch someone fictional come to terms with that as imperfectly as the rest of us.
The day after her relationship ends, Jenny melodramatically dives into singledom, binge-drinking and self-medicating with Molly (a.k.a. ecstasy) procured from RuPaul as she searches for tickets to a music festival. Jenny is endearing in her mood swings, with Rodriguez coming across light and airy when she shirks off her feelings and arresting while deep in them.
This messiness is what makes Someone Great so appealing. No one is looking for the perfect guy or a second chance or any of those other improbable rom-com asks. All Jenny wants is a few hours to get fucked up and forget about things, and that’s something even a rom-com skeptic can get behind.
Someone Great is really a film about trepidation and how it manifests differently in all of us. For Jenny, it comes out in grand displays of emotion, crying in the corner of a bodega to Selena’s “Dreaming of You.” For Erin, it’s in procrastination and denial as she avoids committing to the boutique owner she’s sleeping with, in a final bid to delay adulthood. As for Blair, she deals with her anxieties through lopsided confrontation by cheating on her doting boyfriend with a lanky creative-director type.
The takeaway from their coping mechanisms? Sudden change doesn’t require a sudden solution, even if it takes the film’s protagonists a mere 24 hours to reach that realization. It’s a refreshing lesson, especially as we’re inundated with tales of hot girl summers and clubbing itineraries and primers on how to combat your fear of going out. We don’t need to be okay with this new, awkward pace of life yet — and yes, I’m painfully aware of the irony of a film that celebrates hedonism teaching me that.
Someone Great is best watched casually, perhaps with a pile of laundry at your feet or while you complete some other mundane house chore. Like Set It Up and the rest of the Netflix rom-com set, it’s compulsively watchable, with a plot that gets better the less you think about it. Jenny, Blair, and Erin’s chemistry is breezy, and the film is at its best when it relies on their friendship for cheap laughs. Case in point: The clothing montage — a staple of early aughts rom-coms — feels like a natural extension of a night out as the trio takes shots and swaps outfits while rapping along to “The Jump Off” by Lil’ Kim.
The film’s soundtrack is both a welcome plot device and a crutch, with the song selections occasionally feeling a little too on the nose, like when Jenny scrolls through nearly a decade’s worth of texts and photos while Lorde’s “Supercut” plays. Writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson started off as a music blogger for Pigeons and Planes, and much of the film’s identity comes from Spotify playlists containing well over 500 songs, with most of the score coming together during production. That symbiosis is best showcased in Someone Great’s final flashback, where Jenny and Nate have sex after a particularly incendiary argument. Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” plays in the background, like some sort of warning bell as Jenny realizes the best parts of her relationship are over and that their differences aren’t something you can argue through.
Make no mistake: Someone Great isn’t earth-shattering cinema. It’s not even the best rom-com to come out of the past couple of years. But it is a soothing, easy film to return to when pandemic life feels a little too daunting.
Someone Great is streaming on Netflix.
For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the One Good Thing archives.