‘I Used to Be Funny’ Review: A Stand-Up Comic Struggles With Trauma

Rachel Sennott is—as always—worth watching, though watching her portraying someone struggling with depression can be . . . depressing.

Rachel Sennott in I Used to Be Funny Janick Laurent

Rachel Sennott usually knows what she’s doing. Her edgy comic sensibility, which often veers into scene-stealing intensity, has been aptly placed in movies like Shiva Baby, Bodies Bodies Bodies and Bottoms. In I Used to Be Funny, however, a thoughtful drama from writer/director Ally Pankiw, Sennott plays Sam, a stand-up comedian who quite literally has lost her spark, a sensibility the actress embodies with almost too much seriousness. 

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I USED TO BE FUNNY ★★1/2 (2.5/4 stars)
Directed by: Ally Pankiw
Written by: Ally Pankiw
Starring: Rachel Sennott, Olga Petsa, Sabrina Jalees, Caleb Hearon, Ennis Esmer, Dani Kind, Jason Jones
Running time: 105 mins.

Told over multiple timelines, I Used to Be Funny shifts between present-day, where Sam is grappling with severe depression, and the past, where she’s a more vivacious version of herself. She begins to look backwards when Brooke (Olga Petsa), a 14-year-old girl Sam used to nanny, goes missing. Sam is torn between helping to search for Brooke and attempting to move forward, although we aren’t quite sure what exactly happened that sent her and Brooke spiraling. The film is a journey to reveal Sam’s trauma, which turns out to be something predictably life-altering (and actually predictable), but Pankiw is careful not to show us too much too soon. What could have transpired that forced Sam to quit comedy, break-up with her boyfriend Noah (Ennis Esmer) and abandon Brooke, who has recently lost her mom? 

It’s not a revelatory narrative technique, although it’s fairly functional here, especially once the audience fully understands what Pankiw is trying to achieve. We see Sam performing stand-up at a local club (she’s pretty good) and being hired by Cameron (Jason Jones), Brooke’s dad and a local cop. Her connection with Brooke in the past is genuine and earned, but Brooke’s disappearance in the present feels less realistic. The tonal and timeline shifts ramp up towards the big revelation, which comes slightly too late. Not a lot happens in the movie, despite the narrative scope, and watching someone who is depressed can become as tedious as being depressed feels. Sennott is capable and committed, especially towards the end of the film, and she leans into Sam’s gut-wrenching breakdown moments with a grounded sense of authenticity. 

Memory doesn’t always unveil itself in a linear fashion, particularly traumatic memory. But Sam is aware of what happened to her—it’s not a mystery in the same way it’s hidden from the audience. I Used to Be Funny explores the aftereffects of a traumatic incident, not just on the victim but on those around them, in a way that’s relatively successful. The editing could be tighter and Sam’s formative situation doesn’t need to be withheld from the audience for the story to work. What’s more interesting is how she heals and what it takes to move on. How do you come back to yourself after something bad happens? It’s a question the movie poses, but never fully answers, although the ending does have a sense of resolution for the character. I Used to Be Funny reflects on essential concepts, even if it doesn’t always grasp them in a satisfying way. Still, it’s worth watching Sennott in almost anything. 


‘I Used to Be Funny’ Review: A Stand-Up Comic Struggles With Trauma