The morning after her longtime boyfriend dumps her, Jenny Young, the main character of the Netflix movie “Someone Great,” dances around her kitchen with a friend while sipping bourbon through a plastic straw. “Why’re men great 'til they gotta be great,” they sing, pulling comfort food — hummus, chips and mimosa ingredients — out of a grocery bag. “Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face!"
The song is “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo, an empowering singer whose latest album, “Cuz I Love You,” topped both Billie Eilish’s debut and Beyoncé's “Homecoming” on the iTunes chart this past weekend. The song choice feels especially of-the-moment, which writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (of MTV’s “Sweet/Vicious”) recently explained by comparing Lizzo to Beyoncé herself: “I wanted something that was a little bit of a middle finger to the world, on behalf of Jenny and women,” Robinson said. “I feel like not since Beyoncé has there been an artist that has lifted women up collectively the way Lizzo’s music is lifting women up.”
Stacked with artists such as Lizzo, Mitski and Phoebe Bridgers, the “Someone Great” soundtrack mirrors the modernity of Robinson’s storytelling. The songs would probably appear on the Spotify playlists of city-dwelling women around the same age as Jenny (Gina Rodriguez), a 29-year-old New Yorker who accepts a job at Rolling Stone’s San Francisco bureau — the final impetus for her college sweetheart, Nate (Lakeith Stanfield), to end their nine-year relationship. Robinson aimed to “reframe the ‘romantic’ in ‘romantic comedy’ ” by focusing on how Jenny relies on her endlessly supportive friends, Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow), to pull her back together during a wild night out, but the film does revisit moments throughout Jenny and Nate’s relationship via several flashback scenes.
The most heart-wrenching portion of “Someone Great” wouldn’t land quite as well if not for the song that plays throughout. It’s one of the flashbacks, a dimly lit sex scene set to “Your Best American Girl,” in which indie-rock singer Mitski expresses the turmoil she feels over knowing that the love she feels for a partner can’t overcome the differences between them. The camera zeros in on Jenny’s face as Mitski implores her partner not to wait for her, her voice consistently delicate as the music evolves into chaos.
“I remember being on set and watching it with the song, and I started crying,” Robinson said. “Mitski is one of those artists. I mean, she’s our Fiona Apple. The way that I feel and think of her music is the way I still feel, listening to Fiona. It’s heartbreak, but it’s also meek. You feel so deeply seen by Mitski.”
The same could be said for Rodriguez, an actress most known for starring in the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” Paired with Stanfield, who has emerged in recent years as one of the most intriguing actors in the business, Rodriguez manages to capture the complexities and nuances of being in a doomed relationship, sometimes in a single scene: “Her ability to move through different emotions and turn from comedic to dramatic — it’s just the deepest well in the entire world that she taps into,” Robinson said.
Other songs that pair with Jenny’s moods include Lorde’s “Supercut,” which Robinson wrote into a scene where Jenny revisits her former relationship’s digital footprint (an on-the-nose montage during which we also catch a glimpse of an email about Eilish), and the instrumental backings to three Bridgers songs (“Motion Sickness,” “Scott Street” and “Killer”) that were initially used as a temporary score. Robinson fell in love with the syncs to the point where they reached out to the singer for clearance.
“I’m an inherently dramatic person, so I was just listening to her sad music all the time, looking out the window at the snow,” Robinson said. “Like Mitski, her music just strikes a chord in you that walks this line between melancholy and empowerment that is really incredible, and that I hope this film walks as well.”
Robinson drew from her own past as a music journalist to write the script and curate the movie’s soundtrack. She wrote for the website Pigeons & Planes in her early 20s, but had Jenny accept a job at Rolling Stone’s now-defunct San Francisco bureau as a nod to “Almost Famous.” It’s not the film’s only homage — the title “Something Great” comes from the LCD Soundsystem song about accepting loss. Robinson wasn’t able to secure the rights to the band’s songs, but Easter eggs pop up throughout (such as a neon sign at a concert venue that reads “Where Are Your Friends Tonight,” one of their lyrics).
“This is the music I’m listening to, that my friends are listening to,” Robinson said. “For me, putting the soundtrack together was — and is — my favorite thing, and one of the things I’m most proud of.”