I Used to Be Funny Image

I Used to Be Funny

By Sumner Forbes | June 7, 2024

NOW IN THEATERS! There’s nothing better than being taken completely off guard by how moving a film is. On its face, Ally Pankiw’s SXSW hit I Used to Be Funny, looks to be another vehicle for Rachel Sennott’s comedic sensibilities. That’s here, too, but there’s so much more to this tale of trauma and redemption beyond the unique brand of comedy we’ve come to expect from the lead. Pankiw’s film is refreshing, poignant, and relatable from the start, setting the stage for one of 2024’s most memorable films.

Sam (Rachel Sennott) is a stand-up comedian in Toronto living with her two friends (also comedians), Paige and Philip. Sam is taking a break from comedy (and pretty much all forms of self-care) after a traumatic experience following her time as a caretaker for Brooke (Olga Petsa), the adolescent daughter of Cameron (Jason Jones). His wife is sick, and his demanding work schedule necessitates the need for help with Brooke, who is handling her mother’s illness as well as could be expected.

Sam and Brooke quickly hit it off and formed a friendship that neither expected. They enjoy their time together and, in many ways, become like sisters. Soon, events take a turn for the worse, though, and Sam has to quit working for the family. Sam finds out on the news that Brooke has gone missing a day after a fight, setting off a wave of guilt in Sam as she attempts to find Brooke and set things right so she can get both of their lives back on track. Easier said than done.

“…Brooke has gone missing a day after they have a fight, setting off a wave of guilt in Sam…”

It may be disingenuous to say that a star is born with Sennott’s performance here after notable turns in films like Shiva Baby, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and Bottoms, but this is far and away her most nuanced performance as yet. She effectively balances her natural comedic sensibilities with tangible pathos, delivering for the first ta theatricalatic performance. It will surprise viewers, especially those more used to her raunchy comedy. It’s difficult to ascertain which roles will be career-defining, but it’s difficult to see how this won’t open up many new types of roles for her.

Most impressive is Pankiw’s depiction of Sam’s PTSD through the non-linear narrative structure. Reconciling with traumatic experiences is often a jumble of unexpected triggers reminding victims of the event(s) in question. Sam relives her tumultuous time with Brooke through various actions or statements that send her (and the viewer) back through Sam’s memory. It’s a structure that’s been done before, but rarely is it so apropos to depicting the recovery from a horrible experience.

I Used to Be Funny is destined to be a favorite for many in 2024. It’s blend of emotional realism, a fantastic lead performance, and exacting direction from Pankiw (a filmmaker making the transition from television with aplomb) make for one of the essential movies of the season. We may be inundated with films centered around trauma and victim narratives, but few are this well-executed. Seek this out and thank us afterward.

I Used to Be Funny (2023)

Directed and Written: Ally Pankiw

Starring: Rachel Sennott, Olga Petsa, Jason Jones, Sabrina Jalees, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

I Used to Be Funny Image

"…one of the essential movies of the season."

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