Now Reading
I Used To Be Funny Review

I Used To Be Funny Review

Sam (Rachel Sennott) is a stand-up comic dealing with a severe case of PTSD. She’s been struggling her way towards getting back on stage with the help of her friends, housemates and fellow comedians Paige (Sabrina Jalees) and Philip (Caleb Hearon).

Her recovery is complicated by the news that Brooke (Olga Petsa), the 14 year-old girl she spent two years nannying, has gone missing. Concerned for the girl to whom she’d grown very close, she becomes determined to find her, despite the knowledge that the hunt will force her to confront the event that caused her trauma.

Although we don’t find out what it is that has traumatised Sam until very late on, I Used To Be Funny is plotted smartly enough that we get there ourselves much more quickly, and the movie and Sam’s pain aren’t cheapened by being just about the mystery. Instead, as the truth settles quietly around us through the well-deployed flashbacks, we pay attention to the journeys of the two vulnerable young women at the film’s core.

Sam starts nannying for Brooke at a difficult time in the latter’s life. Brooke’s mother (who we never meet) is severely ill and confined to hospital, and her dad Cameron (Jason Jones) has no idea how to relate to his daughter, preferring to hide away at work than be with her. Sam becomes the chief source of solace in Brooke’s world – she understands that her young charge is going through hell, and is gentle and patient and funny in a way that softens her spikiness.  The sororal bond between the two is made all the more moving when contextualised by the present day sections, when Sam is in the midst of battling with her own private hell, and remains determined to help Brooke even at the cost of her own delicate mental health.

All of this makes I Used To Be Funny sound extremely heavy. And whilst it is often intense – the scene where we conclusively discover what happened to Sam is difficult to watch – the fine-tuned work of writer-director Ally Pankiw and a cast largely populated by real-life comedians mean it’s often very funny too. Much of the film revolves around the comics working out material, batting lines back and forth and enjoying  each other’s sharp sense of humour in a way that feels casual and comfortable; there are scenes where it all becomes pretty much a workplace comedy, and a very enjoyable one at that. Humour can be a defense mechanism, but  it can also be a nourishing way of processing pain – Pankiw’s is a movie that understand this to its bones.

Tying together the serious and silly sides is a fantastic lead turn from Rachel Sennott. Building on her excellent seriocomic performance in 2021’s Shiva Baby, she finds strength in Sam’s vulnerability, rendering her fragile determination vivid, imperfect, and bracingly honest.

From Emma Thompson to Steve Carell, some of the finest dramatic actors around got their start as comedians – in I Used To Be Funny,  Sennott proves herself worthy of joining the impressive club.


View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.