I Used to Be Funny

I Used to Be Funny
I Used to Be Funny
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One should not have missed Rachel Sennott, the excellent young actress from Tahara, Shiva Baby, Bodies Bodies Bodies and Bottoms who has been on everyone’s lips. she starred in Ally Pankiw’s I Used to Be Funny (2021), the writer-director’s first feature film as Sam, a comic whose life is halted by PTSD. Even worse, it is Sam who has last seen Brooke. While trying to help Brooke, fighting depression and her traumatic memories she must make a choice.

The humor in I Used to Be Funny lightens up its heavy themes when necessary such as realism, but the stunning central performance of Sennott is what keeps it all together. Without her deadpan humor and impressive dramatic acting abilities, some of the film’s flaws might have become more apparent. Fortunately for us though we end up with an enchanting emotional story that grounds itself allowing anything particular within it to be universal.

Initially I Used to Be Funny does not give away much about Sam other than that she appears very depressed and Brooke isn’t around anymore. It does not take much time before Sam’s PTSD starts being defined by flashbacks and present day scenes helping you piece it together yourself. This denotes a slow burning narrative which draws you in gradually until you are stuck following along with everything happening onscreen.

In this context where she has been called a liar or told that she destroyed a family gives an idea about where her trauma originated from. However, this intense unraveling of Sam’s past seems even better suited because the directors know how serious their subject matter is. Also it feels like getting to know someone in real life – we often have only bits and pieces – so one can imagine that sam is a beloved friend.

However, none of these pacing benefits would be possible without Rachel Sennott’s pitch-perfect delivery. She has already had two roles that shone for her since arriving on the scene with Shiva Baby, directed by Emma Seligman and Bottoms. But I Used to Be Funny is a more serious piece of work and she handles it like an old pro.

Such moments are filled with awkwardness, tenderness and deep sadness that Sennott taps into perfectly. The latter eats microwavable sandwich meat during her meals as she keeps turning away any attempts at help and refusing anyone that gets close to her while dealing with depression. The performance is so painful when she portrays somebody going through terrible depression who tries to eat meat sliced from microwaved sandwiches instead of accepting any help being offered.

This portrayal of mental illness also impresses in the sense that it shows how much she is in fact leaning on her friends even though they do not mind this. This knowledge creates knotty relationships between them where resentment and affection are found on both sides of the equation. Again, this is something that is often glossed over or avoided altogether onscreen but Pankiw’s writing along with Sennott’s layered performance makes all of these distinctions quite clear.

Contrasting Sam’s twisted present with her past moments as Brooke’s nanny, the two would eventually bond uncomfortably at first and then they form a truly loving relationship. It is here that Sam demonstrates her ability to talk to anyone including Brooke and her nasty father and even build bridges between them. This is an element that gets lost in the story during current parts of the narrative. What makes both sides of this play so good is not just the fact that it always feels like the same person performing despite all the evident disparities.

Throughout its duration, I Used To Be Funny juggles mundane living continuing alongside a serious and distressing situation where someone you love has gone missing. This rings particularly true in relation to this movie’s climax which without spoiling anything involves a heated argument. One side of this fight however, unsurprisingly, is Sam who finally let out some deep down anger she had been keeping in for long now. The argument is messy and dramatic, no one has any right comebacks, each says what they should not have said most of the times.

This verisimilitude adds new layers to Sam’s character development by becoming a turning point for her. Prior, there was clearly a before and after divide in her personality but you can see through this scene she “before” finally catches up with her present-day self. For years following trauma, vibrancy faded from Sennott’s eyes as well as how she spoke ,but now it returns. Nothing flits more seamlessly than watching Sennott merge these two performances together like she does here. It is not Sam going back to being herself again instead it is about incorporating part of her old self into who she currently is.

This final row between them becomes so amazing because although much dialogue comes from Sam (in large quantities and at high volumes), genuine characterization takes place non-verbally. In this scene therefore, Sennott and Pankiw work in unison to show Sam’s arc coming into being. This is an argument about something else entirely, but it feels as though Sam knows she has to stop pushing everything away—her friends, her work, the whole world. So much so that her life may be unique, but what carries emotional weight here can resonate with many audience members.

I Used To Be Funny makes no secret of its target audience: women in their 20s. Factors such as the casting of Sennott, a soundtrack including Phoebe Bridgers, Adrianne Lenker and MUNA among others and knowing jokes from supporting cast members about being queer all form part of this. Directly addressing an audience like this sometimes works well; it is like we are all in on a big joke together. However, for some people it may seem too contrived or overdone.

Whether you have a positive or negative view of these winks and nods will probably depend on your experience with the rest of the film. There are other elements that could veer into corniness though. For example, stand-up comedy scenes are way less funny than the natural back-and-forths between characters while some plot points later on bounce into melodrama territory.

That said, the movie could be forgiven for these uneven parts once it becomes familiar and friendly. At its conclusion it is both endearing and sympathetic; Samantha feels like an old friend. Just as you would give a good chuckle to a dear companion for a bad joke, this book can get away with some of its corny moments in its otherwise impressive introduction. If this is Ally Pankiw in her infancy, then she has got everything going for her future career-wise.

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