‘I Used to Be Funny’ Review: Bruising Punchlines

‘I Used to Be Funny’ Review: Bruising Punchlines

The perceptive dramedy “I Used to Be Funny” features a mic-drop performance by Rachel Sennott as a rising stand-up comedian derailed by a vague, internet-viral crime. What happened to Sam (Sennott) is no laughing matter. But she and her fellow comics crack oblique jokes about it, anyway. Making her first feature, the writer-director Ally Pankiw lets most zingers land. Comedy is just how these strivers communicate — it’s how they break awkwardness, bond, fight, forgive and heal.

Pankiw warms up the audience with Sam’s roommates Paige and Philip (Sabrina Jalees and Caleb Hearon, both terrific) poking fun at a 14-year-old runaway, Brooke (Olga Petsa), last seen smashing in their front door. “She’s probably loving the missing person posters,” Paige drolls. “They used a selfie, she looks great.”

Before she was a recluse, Sam was the lost girl’s nanny. The film is peppered with happier flashbacks to when Sam and Brooke were best pals, a team-up that annoyed Brooke’s humorless dad (Jason Jones). We track time through the perkiness of Sam’s posture and ponytail. Depression films can be a drag. Fortunately, Sennott is entertaining even as a mope.

The script takes an annoyingly long time revealing what went wrong (and then rushes the resolution). Pankiw is more focused on the aftereffects of trauma on a character who wields quips as both weapon and shield. A former stand-up herself, Sennott holds a stage with command. Off-duty, unshowered and unable to move on, Sam is self-aware enough to know that she is exhausting her friends — and the film keeps tabs on how often she and her gang must claim they’re just kidding around.

I Used to Be Funny
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. In theaters.

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