Rachel Sennott is on a hot streak, which looks like it won’t end anytime soon. The Shiva Baby, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and Bottoms star now appears in Ally Pankiw’s Toronto-set drama I Used to Be Funny. The film follows Sam (Sennott), a comedian living in Toronto who has recently fallen into a funk. As the title suggests, she used to make people laugh, but after the young woman she used to nanny for, Brooke (Olga Petsa), goes missing, she falls into a full-blown slump, crippled by post-traumatic stress. Of course, this isn’t the whole tale. The film weaves scenes from different points in the story’s timeline to show Sam’s past with Brooke. It is clear from the get-go that there is more going on than initially appears.
It’s better left unsaid what exactly happened to Sam, but most viewers will be able to piece it together pretty quickly. The film goes a long way to obfuscate the events of the past by cutting back and forth between time frames, but there are only so many places it could go. While writer and director Pankiw (The Great, Feel Good) is well-intentioned with her first feature, the film isn’t exactly subtle with the themes it raises along the way.
Jason Jones is on hand as Brooke’s father, Cameron, and he is instrumental in hiring Sam. He is immediately a little too familiar with Sam, especially as his wife is ill and getting worse by the day. Jones does an excellent job of subtly letting audiences know what kind of man Cameron is early on if one catches the signs His chemistry with Sennott is good; they bounce off each other naturally with him playing straight man to her quick-witted banter at every turn.
Sam’s two best friends and fellow comedians, Philip (Caleb Hearon) and Page (Sabrina Jalees), provide the narrative with some much-needed support and comic relief. The scenes with the three of them together are the funniest in the film and also some of the sweetest. An early dinner scene in which they’re all together flows like they have been friends their whole lives. Ennis Esmer is also on hand as Sam’s ex-boyfriend Noah. While their relationship changes between the two timelines, their chemistry and his vulnerability carry the scenes that Sennot and Esmer share.
It’s a shame, however, that the film feels a little uneven overall. Pankiw juggles the timelines respectably, but the back-and-forth seems off sometimes, as it can be difficult to tell which timeline we are in. There are two major reveals in the third act: one you will see coming a mile away, which robs the twist of some of its power, while the other surprise comes as an emotional gut punch in Petsa’s best scene as we learn more about Brooke.
The movie is ultimately Sennott’s show and she carries it with the confidence of a seasoned performer. The story sees her tackle more than a few complicated subjects. Through it all, she makes Sam believable, sympathetic, and, when the script calls for it, hilarious. It is an excellent performance that anchors I Used to Be Funny should add to Sennot’s indie and dramatic cred.