I Used to be Funny: No Laughing Matter

Life is no laughing matter.

I Used to be Funny tells the story of Sam (Rachel Sennott), a young stand-up comedian who is battling PTSD. As we take steps into her past, we discover that she recently took a job as a nanny in order to make ends meet. By caring for Brooke, a teen whose mother is ill, Sam develops a deep affection for her young protégé and the two become fast friends. But, when tragedy breaks down their relationship and Brooke disappears, Sam must try to find space to heal while wrestling whether or not she will join in the search for her young friend.

Written and directed by Ally Pankiw, I Used to be Funny may be light on laughs but it is absolutely compelling from start to finish. By fracturing her narrative, Pankiw manages to create an element of mystery to Sam’s emotional state. We know that she’s been broken but struggle to understand how or why she feels like she does. Her friends are supportive but feel helpless. Her ex-boyfriend still loves her but knows she needs her space. (Almost) everyone in this film approaches Sam with care but no one has any answers. Everyone remembers how Same used to be—and they want that Sam back. 

In fact, so does Sam.

But that’s not how trauma works. Sam’s past experiences with Brooke and her family have left a scar on her soul but recovery is never a straight line. (In fact, this aspect of psychology even comes across in Pankiw’s broken storytelling, allowing memories and pain to come in their own space and time.) Even though she wants to feel better, Sam has moments where she’s transported back to the moments that hurt her, leaving her paralyzed.

This struggle to keep her head above water is beautifully orchestrated by Sennott who brings a humility (and humour) to her performance as Sam. We’re allowed glimpses into the youthful firecracker that she was and bear witness to the disconnect to her world now. We know the deep love that she has for Brooke as her nanny while left asking how things could have fallen so far off the rails between them. This sort of disjointed performance requires a delicate balance between joy and sadness yet Sennott seems to bare her soul here. Because of Sennott, we see the strong woman that Sam both was and still is.

Similarly, Used to Be is also a testament to the power of generational femininity. For Sam, Brooke is not only important to her because its her job. Sam sees Brooke as another young woman that she can help grow and empower. Over time, their relationship becomes essential to Brooke’s development as Sam attempts to coach her in life as a young woman of courage. (In fact, their bond is so close that it leaves the viewer with further questions about how the devastation between them came to be.) 

But Pankiw doesn’t leave the viewer disheartened. Despite the darkest truths uncovered in Sam’s stories, I Used to be Funny still beats with a heart of faith for its characters. Without giving away any spoilers, just because Sam used to be funny, it doesn’t mean that she can’t be once again.

It just means that it’s may be difficult journey to get there.

I Used to be Funny is available in theatres on Friday, June 7th, 2024. 

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