‘I Used to Be Funny’ Review: A Complex Canadian Seriocomedy

‘I Used to Be Funny’ Review: A Complex Canadian Seriocomedy

Ally Pankiw’s “I Used to Be Funny” is a nuanced Canadian seriocomedy that delves into the complexities of coping with PTSD through the lens of a struggling female comic. The film, which premiered at SXSW and had its Canadian debut at Inside Out, is set to hit Canadian cinemas in 2024, distributed by Level Film.

Rachel Sennott stars as Sam, a twentysomething woman grappling with the aftermath of a workplace sexual assault. The narrative unfolds in two timelines: the present, where Sam is mired in a year-long depression, and the past, where she is a vibrant, confident comic. This duality is central to the film’s exploration of trauma and recovery.

In the present, Sam is a shadow of her former self. She isolates herself, avoids eye contact, and struggles to get out of bed. Her uniform of hoodies symbolizes her retreat from the world. The film captures the essence of PTSD, showing how it can make one feel like a burden to friends and society. Yet, it avoids descending into misery porn by offering glimpses of Sam’s happier past.

The past timeline reveals a different Sam—one who is energetic, self-confident, and capable of making people laugh. Her relationship with Brooke, a grieving teenager she babysits, is a focal point. Sam’s ability to connect with Brooke, despite her own struggles, highlights her inherent strength and compassion.

When Brooke goes missing, Sam feels compelled to find her, a mission that pulls her out of her depressive state. This journey serves as a catalyst for Sam’s own healing, forcing her to confront her trauma and take steps toward self-acceptance. The film wisely keeps the assault offscreen, allowing the audience to imagine the horror through the lead-up and aftermath.

The supporting characters, though somewhat clichéd, add depth to the story. Sam’s sassy best friend Paige and gay best friend Philip provide moments of levity and support. However, their roles could have been more fleshed out, hinting at untapped potential for a more extended narrative.

Pankiw’s direction shines in her handling of actors. Sennott convincingly portrays two versions of Sam, making the character’s transformation both believable and poignant. The film’s low-key aesthetic suits its intimate, character-driven story, though it leaves some supporting characters underexplored.

“I Used to Be Funny” is unabashedly Canadian, set in Toronto and featuring local landmarks. This authenticity adds another layer to the film, grounding it in a specific cultural context. Sennott, an American actress, delivers a standout performance, continuing her trend of excelling in Canadian films by women directors.

The film joins a growing canon of movies about female comics that tackle social issues through humor. Unlike its predecessors, “I Used to Be Funny” focuses less on the comedy routine and more on the protagonist’s internal journey. This shift in focus allows for a deeper exploration of PTSD and its impact on one’s sense of self.

In summary, “I Used to Be Funny” is a compelling addition to the genre of seriocomedy, offering a sensitive portrayal of PTSD and the struggle to reclaim one’s identity. With strong performances and thoughtful direction, it stands out as a film that balances humor and heartache, making it a must-watch in the coming year.

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