I Used To Be Funny Review: A Moving Exploration of Trauma and Transformation

Rachel Sennott Shines in a Dramatic Directorial Debut

We’ve all been there—when life throws you a curveball and suddenly your grip on happiness starts to slip. In the film I Used to Be Funny, struggling stand-up comedian Sam knows this feeling all too well. What begins as an ambitious pursuit of her dreams slowly gives way to dark days as trauma creeps into Sam’s world.

Between captivating performances on stage one moment and paralyzing panic the next, she finds herself caught in a downward spiral. Through it all, Sam clings to the relationships and humor that used to uplift her. But will it be enough to weather the storm?

Directed by Ally Pankiw, this moving drama explores poignant themes of mental health, toxic dating trends we’ve all witnessed, and the resilience of the human spirit. Told with genuine empathy, it follows Sam’s journey to reclaim her smile through hardship. With twists that will keep you on your toes and laughs that may unexpectedly turn to tears, I Used To Be Funny offers an impactful glimpse into the real fragility beneath our facades.

Leading with Heart

At the center of it all is Rachel Sennott’s deeply affecting turn as Sam. She breathes life into a character wrestling with trauma, bringing a raw vulnerability but also flashes of humor that keep the story sailing along. You really feel for Sam as she tries to pick up the pieces.

But it’s not all gloom—Sennott ensures we see Sam’s vibrancy before life throws her a curveball too. She seamlessly shifts between the woman Sam was and who she’s become, showing how badly her light was dimmed without making it all too depressing. Through her performance, you understand, in a very real sense, what this character struggles with each day.

Joining Sennott with equally impressive work is Olga Petsa as the troubled teen Brooke. Hers is a nuanced portrait of a girl coping as best she can with family troubles, finding solace in an unexpected friendship. The care and concern Brooke has for Sam and for her in return is touching to watch. It makes their falling out all the more heartbreaking.

Bringing comic relief but also earnest support are Caleb Hearon and Sabrina Jalees as Sam’s roommates Philip and Paige. You really believe they’re Sam’s people, there for her through ups and downs with understanding and humor in equal measure. Jalees especially shines, finding that balance between zany jokes and providing a shoulder in Sam’s lowest moments.

All in all, strong performances are what elevate this story and keep you invested in seeing these characters find healthier days. Sennott, Petsa, and the others make it impossible not to root for Sam and company as they weather life’s twists and turns. Their authentic rapport establishes the heart, warming it all.

Masterful Mood Shifts

You’ve got to hand it to director Ally Pankiw for skillfully balancing this story on some tricky tightropes. She’s dealing with seriously difficult subject matter, yet she understands levity is vital too. Pankiw navigates it all with real nuance, finding that sweet spot between humor and heartbreak.

I Used To Be Funny Review

A big part of maintaining this tone is how she structures the timelines. Flashing between Sam’s past comedy successes and present struggles immediately shapes our view. In the past, she’s been vibrant and the life of every party. But now just getting up is a challenge. It immediately grabs you and makes clear what she’s lost.

This approach is anything but easy to pull off, yet Pankiw makes it seem effortless. She seamlessly flows between happier and harder scenes, always tapping just the right emotional beats. It ensures the difficult parts retain their real impact without wearing you down.

While it’s her first feature, Pankiw delivers with real confidence. She’s created a rich, messy world and makes guiding us through it look artless. Even when bouncing back and forth, she maintains clarity and focuses on the core story. It’s no simple task, but Pankiw is completely in command of her craft.

The movie just buzzes with her clear vision. You can feel Pankiw’s observant, empathetic eye in every frame. It’s an impressive display from a director with such a bright future ahead. She’s crafted a special film that will surely leave its mark. Pankiw understands that tone is everything in a piece like this and proves herself to be its masterful maestra.

Weaving a Complex Tale

Ally Pankiw takes us on quite a journey with Sam’s story. We first meet her barely functioning in the present, then flash back to a life filled with comedy success. Slowly, intriguing clues reveal what trauma has shut Sam down.

Pankiw smartly doles out these details, one piece at a time, through a fragmented timeline. Scenes bounce between Sam’s past happiness and her current despondency. It’s an unconventional approach that keeps us wanting more. But it does stir some frustration, as really important moments are held back.

All the puzzle pieces start coming together in the last act. A courtroom drama reveals Sam is at the center of a legal case, yet she seems an unreliable witness. Then a powerful flashback brings clarity, though Pankiw mercifully leaves much to the imagination. It’s a gut-wrenching scene that explains so much.

From here, things wrap in a way that feels a tad rushed after such a drawn-out build. But it works overall, tying the story into a neat package with uplifting resolutions. All those little clues and character interactions take on new weight in hindsight, too.

Pankiw takes bold storytelling risks that don’t always pay off. Yet her structural shuffles prove quite an effective story vehicle too. They ensure the dramatic beats land with maximum impact. And it’s a testament to Pankiw’s skill that everything comes together so cohesively in the end, transforming flashes of life into a full portrait.

She’s crafted a pretty sophisticated story here that’s not just about one person’s trauma but how it ripples out to damage other relationships as well. It’s a complex thematic web that Pankiw weaves with artistic flair throughout this tale of recovery.

Working through Complex Issues

Ally Pankiw tackles some heavy themes in this film, from the lasting impact of trauma to creative lives under scrutiny. She delves into how Sam’s experience damages her deeply, infecting other ties along the way.

We see how the trauma strips Sam of what gave her joy—her comedy and sense of self. Once a rising talent, she withdraws completely, losing friends and purpose. Pankiw shows how the effects ripple far beyond a single incident, nearly destroying a person.

A bold aspect Pankiw explores is words turning against their creator. Scenes in court take Sam’s comedy against her, twisting humor into a liability. It highlights ongoing debates around using past art to judge people, addressing the #MeToo fallout. Are all jokes fair game, or does context matter? The film raises thought-provoking questions here.

Mental health is another pressing theme. Pankiw portrays Sam’s decline with empathy, showing the many doors trauma can close. From the film’s sensitive handling, it’s clear she seeks to shed light, not perpetuate stigma. She crafts an ultimately hopeful story of one person’s journey towards healing.

Relationships also feel the trauma’s tremors. Sam’s bond with Brooke disintegrates mysteriously, and why hangs over them. We see trauma-damaged trust between victim and avenger. It impacts how people process, act on, and rebuild from difficult experiences.

Overall, Pankiw tackles complex issues with care, crafting a smart drama that starts important discussions. She brings nuance to consent, call-out culture, recovery, and the messiness of human experiences. In doing so, the film brings understanding and gives voice to the silenced sides of shared debates. It highlights how individual lives interconnect through comedy, crimes, and our common fragilities.

Delivering Drama with a Dose of Humor

Ally Pankiw deftly employs comedy to keep the tone balanced. She naturally weaves humorous moments into conversations between characters. This enhances their relationships and brings some lightness.

Even amid difficult conversations, the friends can’t resist getting in a joke or playful jab. Their comfortable rapport stems from this bond of humor. It adds realism to have laughter alongside life’s heavier talks.

Of course, having comedy in their lives makes sense. Many pursue it as a career or a passion. So wit and jest become second nature, even when processing pain. The quips offer brief smiles during sorrows.

It’s no surprise that the performances feel authentic. Lead Rachel Sennott and others, like Caleb Hearon, honed their comedic skills. They understand the timing and playfulness that comedy requires.

This lends itself to meaningful performances, even in drama. Sennott shows comedy’s value but also its personal cost through vivid switches between a joyful and one shattered character. She highlights humor’s power as relief or crutch and its consequences when stripped away.

With a deft touch, Pankiw uses laughter to brighten what could become too heavy. It recognizes that even in difficulties, humor survives in human connections. The film proves comedy remains life’s saving grace, whether on a stage or between true companions.

Pankiw’s Impressive Directorial Debut

Ally Pankiw’s first feature shows she’s a director to watch. I Used to Be Funny takes on heavy themes of trauma, relationships, and identity, but does so accessibly through its humor and heart.

The film follows Sam’s journey of recovering from some past pain and finding herself through connections with others. Pankiw masterfully weaves past and present scenes, building intrigue around Sam’s situation before revealing the truth. This has an emotional impact when the cause of Sam’s withdrawal is uncovered.

Of course, none of it would work without Rachel Sennott’s intense performance. She breathes life into Sam, conveying humor and anguish with raw sensitivity. Sennott makes Sam’s recovery feel genuine, highlighting mental health struggles so many can relate to.

Alongside a talented crew, Pankiw has crafted an assured directorial debut. It tackles serious issues seriously, but not solemnly. I Used to Be Funny proves Pankiw is a director capable of balancing drama with moments of levity.

With her skillful storytelling and ability to elicit strong acting, Pankiw’s future looks bright. Likewise for Sennott, who continues to display dramatic chops to match her comedic flair. This film bodes well for everyone involved, as they each have more meaningful stories to share.

The Review

I Used To Be Funny

8 Score

Ally Pankiw's directorial debut, I Used to Be Funny, proves a success in delivering an impactful drama surrounding important themes of mental health, relationships, and personal identity. With deft storytelling and intimate direction, Pankiw navigates heavy subject matter accessibly through humor and heart. At the center of it all, Rachel Sennott gives a tour-de-force performance that carries the entire film.


  • A complex exploration of mental health, trauma, and recovery
  • Strong performances from Rachel Sennott and the supporting cast
  • Deft handling of the tone between drama and comedy
  • An intriguing storyline that builds suspense
  • The message of finding empowerment through relationships


  • Slow reveal of key plot details
  • Some tonal shifts feel awkward.
  • Certain supporting characters are underdeveloped.
  • Heavy subject matter is not for all viewers.

Review Breakdown

  • Overall 8
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