Rachel Sennott anchors empowering dramedy ‘I Used to Be Funny’

Sage Dunlap, Associate Life&Arts Editor

Content Warning: Mention of sexual assault

From writer and director Ally Pankiw, SXSW selected film “I Used to Be Funny” follows comedian Sam (Rachel Sennott) as she copes with post-traumatic stress disorder after being sexually assaulted. While confronting her own trauma, she also becomes involved in the search for Brooke, the missing teenage girl she babysits. 

Sennott, the breakout star of “Shiva Baby,” thrives in a more drama-centered role. Throughout the movie, Sennott takes viewers on Sam’s healing journey, splitting screen time between the past, when she babysat Brooke, and present, as she struggles to find normalcy while dealing with PTSD. Sennott swiftly embodies both sides of the character — a once witty, raunchy stand-up comic now fragmented as she works to piece herself back together.

However, contrary to the movie’s title, Sennott proves she’s still funny. An actress beloved for her comedic roles in films like “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” as well as her real-life success in stand-up, the leading actress frequently showcases her swift comedic timing. In addition to hilarious supporting performances from Sam’s roommates Paige (Sabrina Jalees) and Philip (Caleb Hearon), the script sprinkles sharp one-liners and pop culture references throughout the film, giving occasional relief from the heavy tone of the story. Pankiw’s writing feels exceptionally smart, and Sennott peels her words off the page to construct a realistic, complex character.

Many of the film’s heartfelt moments come from the building relationship between twenty-something Sam and young teenager Brooke, played by Olga Petsa. The pair bring out emotional vulnerability in each other, with Sam evolving into a mentor figure who makes Brooke feel comfortable letting her guard down. As both characters simultaneously work through traumatic events in differing ways, their relationship faces ups and downs, creating tension that builds to a heartfelt ending.

The film tells Sam’s story through frequent flashbacks, conveying a realistically nonlinear healing process. Pankiw’s writing handles how a character feels trapped by her trauma, and Sennott shows a new side of her acting capabilities in an incredibly dynamic role. “I Used to Be Funny” handles topics of sexual trauma and healing with immense care and sensitivity, delivering an empowering and optimistic story.

4 rabbits dyed blue out of 5