Photo Courtesy of SXSW.

SXSW23: ‘I Used to Be Funny’ Review: A Timeless Darkly Comedic Drama with Soul

**CONTENT WARNING: This review contains references to sexual assault. If you or someone you love require support after an assault, you are not alone. Click HERE for available resources.**

I Used to Be Funny is a dark feminist comedy that pairs humour and commentary in an unforgettable way. This is a timely reflection on how art facilitates healing, sometimes unexpectedly. This story is ripped directly from the headlines and delves into the very real experience of surviving a traumatic event and finding a way forward. 

The movie follows comedian Sam (Rachel Sennott), who lives with PTSD following a sexual assault. When the teenage girl that Sam used to nanny goes missing, she must decide whether to join the search. Along the way, she must also choose whether to further her own healing journey and whether she can move forward in her own life. 

Sennott is magnetic throughout I Used to Be Funny. Her whip-smart humour and perfect timing just make the heavier moments that much more emotional. It’s devastating watching the contrast between how trusting this character was before the assault. It’s equally heartwarming to watch her find her way back. Showing that Sam is still a full human being following her assault while having to adjust to a new reality adds a layer of authenticity to the character. 

An important point that this movie makes is that even “imperfect” victims of sexual assault deserve justice. Sarah is presented as perfectly imperfect. Rather than centring male voices and perspectives, the story does well to focus on Sam. She is never shown as anything more or less than a woman who was just trying to live her life when she was attacked. Regardless of how she may have been perceived by those around her, the movie unflinchingly reminds viewers that there is never under any circumstances any excuse or explanation for such a crime to be committed. 

Relatedly, this movie demonstrates the utopian vision of being taken seriously in court. There’s something so satisfying about seeing a judge actually take a case of sexual assault seriously. It doesn’t change what happened. The choice to make this part of the story seem markedly different from the rest of the movie demonstrates just how jarring it is to see someone held to account for even a fictional assault. This is another way in which the movie effectively adds a layer of realism.

I Used to Be Funny is also a topical commentary on the danger of a nice “professional” guy. The story shows how insidious patriarchy is and how it allows men to feel entitled to women’s bodies. The off-colour jokes and assumptions made about Sam based on her profession are a terrifying gateway to men (one man in particular) thinking that they can act without any consequences. The movie is a sobering reminder of how much of a threat “nice guys” can be.

Perhaps the only complaint about I Used to be Funny as a movie is that it isn’t longer. Not a moment is wasted. Sam’s journey is a poignant one. It is filled with hope, even in the face of horror. There is so much optimism to take away from a story like this. Sam is absolutely a character worth revisiting. 

I Used to Be Funny premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.

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