I had seen this film right after Memoir of a Murderer. Quite the contrast. I think I missed the first three minutes or so.
image credit to gizmofilms
Funny Cow is a portrait of a Northern comedian throughout the 70s and 80s. It chronicles her life from childhood to the beginnings of her career, and the aftermath of her success. The story follows an unnamed female stand-up comedian (Maxine Peake) in the earlier days of British comedy. She’s referred to throughout the film as ‘Funny Cow’ or ‘ love’ or other terms of endearment/resentment.
I wasn’t sure whether or not the film was based on the life of a real person, or entirely fictional. I thought it was an interesting look at sexism in comedy, racism and homophobia in 70s Britain, and at the core of it, abuse.
The structure of the film is split up into sections separated by title cards, into ‘bits’ much like a joke. As a stand-up fan, I always like seeing how comedians come to be. As an aspiring comedian myself, it makes me a little less scared though wholly terrified of the prospect of bombing or not even getting your career of the ground. We meet her as a child after the death of her physically abusive father, enjoying a swim of hot water in the bathtub and hanging out on the swings with her brother. The timelines cut back and forth out of order, sometimes interjected by a talking head of her during the taping of a live TV programme or stand-up performance deep in conversation about her turmoil or emotions.
It’s a character study more than anything. You see this girl grow into a woman, from moving into her first house with her later-abusive husband, to choking at an audition, to looking up at another comedian with stars in her eyes. There’s a scene that stuck to me in a fairly uncomfortable way: though her jokes were racist/homophobic (though I believe that’s a choice for accuracy in the time period), they killed not only in the room in the film, but in the cinema I was watching it in. As she tells these jokes, her stand-up mentor, an older male comedian that initially told her women weren’t funny, hangs himself in the club’s public restroom. This is something that haunts me as behind nearly every comedian there’s a tragedy lurking beneath them.
The film is a picturesque exploration of every Northerner stereotype you can imagine. It also struck me to be a great representation of how nuanced a woman’s experience can truly be. Despite her being a white woman, which makes it difficult for me to relate to in the first place, I thought there was a lot of power behind the amount of pain she had been put through. She had gone through years of abuse, usually committed by a man, an estranged relationship with her family, failed relationships, underestimation of her worth in a male dominated career; a lot of things all women go through. I’m not saying white women are the poster children for relatability, nor is this character, but I saw a lot of myself in her somehow. I think that’s a lot of the reason why we’re drawn to certain characters in the first place. Also, I think it just further poisoned my mind into giving stand-up a try. (More on this over the next few months).
I didn’t realize it until the end, but we never really learn her name. In the credits, the actress was simply credited as Funny Cow. I’m not really cool with women being compared to farm animals.
It was an insightful look at the systematic abuse women are put under regardless of social class and career. Our heroine went from dirt poor to superstar rich and she still has to deal with bullshit men threw her way. It showed how it can really chip away at different parts of your self-esteem. It showed how complicated dealing with abuse is. Sometimes you can leave, sometimes you can’t; I think the film does a really great job in illustrating how many emotions and constructs can exist in a grey area.
Overall, it was an absolute pleasure to walk into a film not knowing much about it, and walking out feeling the slightest bit enlightened.
short but sweet? I had let the post sit for too long to really carve anything out from the depths. This is me writing at 1 a.m. I should really get some sleep. Note to self: make a habit of jotting down talking/analysis points after content you consume so you have a reference point to go back to and make more substantiated comments. thanks.