‘Someone Great’ Is the Music-Critic Comedy We Had No Idea We Needed
Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez shines in her totally delightful Netflix comedy Someone Great, written and directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. In addition to everything else Someone Great is — a break-up comedy, a killer soundtrack, a girls-together-outrageously romp — it’s a movie about music fans, people who live their lives and suffer and fuck up and bond and grieve while obsessing over their favorite songs. It finds clever ways to crush your soul with Mitski or Phoebe Bridgers tunes. A moment in a bodega where you hear a Selena ballad on the radio and get triggered into a humiliating meltdown, singing along so weepily you can never show your face there again? Who among us, right?
Someone Great dropped on Netflix this weekend, with basically zero advance fanfare, and hit a nerve. For one thing, it whisked oldies by Lorde and Lizzo (from like, 2017) to the top of the streaming charts. Gina stars as a New York music critic who gets her dream job writing for Rolling Stone. But there’s a catch: she has to move to our office in San Francisco. (Nobody told her it closed in 1977, when the magazine moved to NYC? Don’t sign any leases, Gina.) Her boyfriend LaKeith Stanfield dumps her. Her BFFs DeWanda Wise (from She’s Gotta Have It) and Brittany Snow decide they must console their girl with one last all-night rampage through the city, crashing an A-list bash called the Neon Classic. As Wise declares after one of their dressing-up montages, gazing into the mirror, “I am deeply obsessed with us right now!”
It feels fresh partly because it gets the emotional details of music fandom so right. Someone Great is packed with fantastic songs by everyone from Big Freedia to Ryn Weaver, and for these friends, every messy moment of their lives has a soundtrack. Their idea of a good time is arguing about the Postal Service in bars. Nobody in the movie feels neurotic about this, or makes speeches worrying whether there’s something weird in caring about music too much. Refreshing, to say the least.
Lorde’s “Supercut” gets used brilliantly in a heart-puncturing sequence where Gina relives moments from her broken relationship. There’s a melancholy sex scene to Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl,” which has never sounded sadder. We see the couple’s fourth-anniversary playlist, with familiar classics (Otis Redding, J. Dilla) but also left-field picks like Sam Cooke’s 1957 ballad “I’ll Come Running to You.” On her wall, Gina has posters of amazing punk bands like Downtown Boys and LVL UP. In everybody’s favorite scene, she gets ambushed by Selena’s “Dreaming of You” in the corner store and has no choice but to sing into her string-cheese microphone. It’s tragically relatable.
Like all magazine writers in movies, Gina has her own apartment the size of McCarren Park, except hers has a kitchen shrine to David Bowie circa Young Americans. One of the gals hooks up with a sketchy publicist dude for VIP wristbands, telling him, “That was not GA intercourse!” RuPaul has a scene-stealing moment as the ladies’ drug dealer/therapist. The movie’s full of comic cameos: Rosario Dawson, Jaboukie Young-White, Questlove as the Neon Classic DJ, Michelle Buteau as a stranger who joins Gina for an after-hours subway crying fit. The whole vibe is extremely Modern Girls: the lost 1986 mega-cheddar masterpiece starring Daphne Zuniga, Cynthia Gibbs and Virginia Madsen raging all night in L.A., ending with Depeche Mode’s “But Not Tonight” — the perfect use of a perfect song.
Gina Rodriguez takes her place in the pantheon of Rolling Stone writers in the movies — she might be a mess and a half, but that probably just makes her a more accurate depiction. (I’m already hoping there’s a karaoke scene in the sequel.) She’s in the proud tradition of Shelley Duvall in Annie Hall, as the reporter who raves about Dylan and the Maharishi (“it’s transplendent!”) and tells Woody Allen, “Sex with you is a really Kafkaesque experience.” She’s up there with Patrick Fugit in Cameron Crowe’s evergreen Almost Famous. Or John Travolta in the Eighties classic Perfect — he proves he’s a serious journalist by wearing a tie over a flannel shirt and jeans to interview aerobics guru Jamie Lee Curtis. Who immediately seduces him, because 1985. (Founder and publisher Jann S. Wenner makes his acting debut as fictional RS editor Mark Roth.)
And perhaps the finest performance in any version of A Star Is Born: Marta Heflin in the 1976 film. She wants to interview Kris Kristoffersen, so she breaks into his mansion and hides topless in his swimming pool. (It works!) When Barbra Streisand catches them in bed together, she responds by deciding to interview Barbara about it, so she just turns on her trusty tape recorder. Can you even imagine being that cool? Somehow this episode is presented as part of Kris’ downward spiral, rather than “an all-time aspirational peak of Seventies writerly heroism.” It’s a long and noble Hollywood legacy. But Someone Great definitely lives up to it.