Netflix's Someone Great Makes A Case For The Breakup Rom-Com

Photo: courtesy of Netflix.
The very first scene in Someone Great, writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s debut Netflix feature, is a visual feast of blue, purple, and soft pink lighting. Jenny Young (Gina Rodriguez), an NYU sophomore, is carrying boyfriend Nate Davis (Lakeith Stanfield) on her back as they bask in the glow of a perfect concert, on their way to meet their friends at a local bar. They’re young, they’re attractive, they’re sickeningly, glowingly in love.
It’s not until moments later, when we see Jenny drinking from an open bottle on a subway platform, pouring her heart out to a stranger, that we realize that first scene was a glimpse into her memory of a just-ended, long-term relationship. In hindsight, things are always more beautiful than they actually were. We gloss over the fights, the viciously passive aggressive comments, the disappointments, and the letdowns.
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In many ways, that’s the central tenet of Someone Great: Learning to let go of the desire to return to that Instagram-filtered past, and instead appreciating the good times for what they were, even while acknowledging the bad. As my colleague Kaitlin Reilly pointed up in her write-up of the film’s trailer, most Netflix rom-coms (including To All The Boys I've Loved Before, Set It Up, and The Kissing Booth) focus on a couple coming together, or surmounting every obstacle to get back together. Someone Great instead chooses to hone in on a woman’s journey to self-accepting singledom.
As we learn from Jenny’s subway rant, the primary reason she and Nate ended their nine-year love story is because she got her dream job covering music for Rolling Stone, which required her to move from New York to San Francisco. He’s unwilling to do the long distance thing, which seems like a dick move — but as we peel back the rose-tinted memories, it’s clear things have been rocky for a while. This was just the final straw.
Jenny’s heartbreak is only half of this film’s plot, however. What makes Something Great, well, so great, is that it is both rom-com and female-buddy comedy. In between shots of leftover green juice mixed with Champagne, Jenny decides she needs a full-day blowout with best-friends Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise — cast her in everything!) — one last party before she moves away, and a way to stop constant thoughts of Nate swirling around in her brain. What follows is a debauched Hangover-style romp through New York City as Jenny, Erin, and Blair seek out exclusive tickets to Neon Classic, a showcase concert making its one-night comeback on the very day they most need it.
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A former music writer, Robinson hand-picked the soundtrack, which includes bangers like Post Precious’s “Timebomb,” Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” and a truly inspired boozy getting ready montage set to Lil’ Kim’s “The Jump Off.”
Jenny is a new challenge for Rodriguez, who’s been playing the more straight-laced Jane Villanueva on Jane The Virgin, when she’s not wielding a machine gun in a drug cartel thriller Miss Bala, or holding her scientists colleagues prisoner in sci-fi nightmare Annihilation. She’s fun, and real, and refreshing — a woman of colour at the centre of a story long-dominated by white women. And rather than having her as a token display of diversity, the film instead makes her Latinx identity an integral part of her character. Likewise, Erin’s budding relationship with Leah, another woman of colour, isn’t used as a flat queer character trait. It’s a substantial character arc.
Overall, the film paints a relatable portrait of women in their late 20s realizing their plans and priorities have shifted, readjusting expectations, but also having a wildly enjoyable time. Robinson, the creative force behind the much-missed cult show Sweet/Vicious, has assembled a mostly female crew, a decision that resonates throughout the film’s tone and aesthetics, from costume (Stacey Battat), to cinematography (Autumn Eakin), production design (Lisa Myers), and editing (Mollie Goldstein).
But it’s the characters that really hit this one home. They feel lived in, like honest-to-god human women that you could actually just find in your contacts. They have a past together, referenced through flashbacks, college playlists, passing references, and Jenny and Erin’s constant demand for “Bad Blair,” who has been MIA since Blair shed her wild days for a job as an event planner who uses words like “hashtag rollout.” Snow kills it as the basic uptight twentysomething letting loose for the first time in a while, while Wise proves once more that she should be a rom-com staple — she has the emotional range and comedic chops to be more than a supporting character.
As for the men, they’re not one-dimensional either. Stanfield shares eye-melting chemistry with Rodriguez, his enthusiasm and support for her throughout their relationship hammering home the fact that sometimes good people just aren’t the right fit. He’s not a bad guy, he’s just not right for her anymore. Same goes for Peter Vack’s Matt, Jenny’s former college fuccboi crush who proves he too has changed over time. Only Alex Moffatt as Blair’s married-by-30 standby choice, the kind of guy who deep cleans his girlfriend’s apartment without being asked, feels like a true caricature. (But hey, it works.)
Robinson’s script is sharp, and fast-paced, delivered with gleeful zest by her protagonists. She also knows her audience, and the dialogue is full of Millennial™ references, from Harry Potter house horoscopes to Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird. In fact, those, rather than the actual plot, are what will likely date the film a couple of years from now. Female friendship, self-acceptance, and drunken bodega karaoke? Those things are timeless.
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