There were not many stars minted at SXSW in the last few years. However, after the release of Shiva Baby, Bodies Bodies Bodies and Bottoms, it’s clear that Rachel Sennott pulled it off. The actress showed range over the three films, highlighting her comedic timing and dramatic skillset. Yet I Used to Be Funny serves as a turning point. Showcasing her ability to work through extreme trauma, Sennott and director Ally Pankiw tells an intimate story of life after the worst day of your life.

Sam (Sennott) remains mentally and physically broken after a rape. She tries to return to the world of stand-up comedy but suffers a panic attack whenever the eyes of the room are on her. As she continues to struggle, a teenager she used to be an Au Pair for goes missing. Desperate to find Brooke (Olga Petsa), Sam must confront what happened to her.

Stories like I Used to Be Funny often allow their lead actresses to show off their range. In the case of Sennott, her talent was never in question. However, showing an ability to balance legitimately decent stand-up comedy with the more dramatic elements of the role makes for a winning combination. Sennott plays despair better than most performers and continues to showcase that side of herself.

Pankiw pushes Sennott to explore the darker side of the character and gives her plenty of material to develop Sam. Even with the upsetting moments that lead to her rape, she gets to showcase levels of emotion. Life is never a straight line. Even when depression takes hold, we find moments of happiness. Sennott thrives at selling these moments, even if the depression overtakes her.

This balance from Pankiw helps the story move forward, but I Used to Be Funny stumbles at times. While her friend group (Sabrina Jalees and Caleb Hearon) is terrific, the rest of the cast struggles to maintain the balance. Jason Jones, in particular, feels wildly miscast. The flashback sequencing does not help maintain much mystery in the story either. This slow build does little to help us dive into Sennott’s character and seems to actively distract from the power of the story. Petsa does her best but is often pigeonholed by her character’s angst.

These elements make it hard to fully fall for I Used to Be Funny. The comedic elements are exemplary, and Sennott’s performance keeps us locked into the story. However, with some lackluster performances, I Used to Be Funny misses some crucial elements. Pankiw shows talent as a writer and director. However, she will need to ensure stronger performances from her ensemble in the future.

Alan’s Rating: 7/10

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