Getting Through, Not Over: Our Review of ‘I Used To Be Funny’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - June 07, 2024
Getting Through, Not Over: Our Review of ‘I Used To Be Funny’

Realities surrounding trauma serve no genuine master.

The real master stroke in the new film, I Used To Be Funny is that it so effectively highlights the lack of rules surrounding coming through a trauma and reminds us of the need for humanity in understanding the complexities of how to get out of it.

Sam Cowell (Rachel Sennott), an aspiring stand-up comedian and au pair struggling with PTSD, weighs whether or not to join the search for Brooke (Olga Petsa), a missing teenage girl she used to nanny.

Coming from an extensive background in TV, first time feature writer/director Ally Pankiw deftly understands to avoid any of the expected beats and tropes of any genre of storytelling to allow for a portrait of functional stress, trauma and depression to come through in her protagonist.  Had anyone in this film just told Sam to “Get over it and move on” it would have sunk the entire thing and she knew it.

Cutting back and forth (pre and post trauma) we see that Sam is not all that different before or after which only opens up the idea to what can only be described as a ‘functional depression’ which is rarely seen on screen.  While the narrative does try to obfuscate what actually happened and give us some beats that border on mystery, it really is all about Sam who is fumbling the darkness of her own misgivings and doubts to find her way back to the light.  Pankiw lets us experience this through the way she shoots the film giving Sam a truly uncertain base that she has to work from in order to navigate day to day life.

Rachel Sennott as Sam is pretty much inspired casting because this needed a layer of self-deprecation as she struggles to find herself in the wake of the events that happened to her.  Sennott really gives this issue some complex nuance and doesn’t play into what’s expected because in reality no one knows how to work themselves out of a trauma that they’ve experienced until they are in the thick of it all.  It’s never supposed to be perfect and Sennott and Pankiw both understand that.

In many ways; I Used To Be Funny through the use of it’s very title crafts an emotional misdirect for audiences to get lost in.  The film is never about how Sam isn’t funny anymore because of the trauma she’s endured it’s about how Sam ultimately figures out her new identity coming out of it all.  She can’t go back to the way it was before, but in navigating her way through she’ll learn what life is all about after the trauma.   It’s a realistic but not obvious outlook on the realities of enduring emotional trauma, because it’s not about getting over something, it’s just about finding a way to live with it and not define who you ae going forward.

At the end of the day, it’s just a truly beautiful piece of character driven cinema that we need more of in our lives.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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