Adrian Shergold's story of a stand-up comedian and her miserable milieu ticks all the gritty-northern-period-drama boxes.David Cheal, The Financial Times, 24th August 2018
Maxine Peake is wonderful as a female comedian.Louis Barfe, The Daily Express, 29th April 2018
By 'eck it's grim up England's north. If you were not aware of that already, Adrian Shergold's comedy drama will quickly remove any doubts. Maxine Peake plays a comedian retracing her life through flashbacks to her miserable childhood and equally unhappy marriage, and excerpts from her stand-up routine. Apart from running through every cliche in the book about the unhappy clown, Shergold's film provides work for every northern actor who ever lived. Peake is as watchable as ever, but this is tired stuff.The Herald, 24th April 2018
When Maxine Peake's not a big enough name to finance a film you know things are tough for women in the industry.Adrian Lobb, The Big Issue, 23rd April 2018
If Adrian Shergold's film tells us anything about life in 1970s England, the overriding message is that being a female standup comedian was clearly no laughing matter.Philip Caveney, Bouquets & Brickbats, 23rd April 2018
Anyone expecting a hilarious peak behind the wizard's curtain and into the real world of stand-up comedy may well be disappointed.Bruce Dessau, Beyond The Joke, 20th April 2018
Movies about comedy are rarely funny but Funny Cow takes the sad clown cliché to such a grim extreme it becomes almost laughable. Starring the excellent Maxine Peake as an aspiring British stand-up in the sexist, racist, homophobic environs of the Northern working men's clubs of the 1970s and early 1980s, the film around her is such a wilfully incoherent mess it renders her performance all but dead on arrival.
She plays the eponymous Funny Cow (no other character name is given), a battered wife who has apparently found success by transforming the trauma of her life into a stage act that mixes the sort of politically incorrect gags of the era with uncomfortable confessionals about her childhood, her marriage and her surroundings. Using what seems like a television special or a monologue-based theatre show as a framing device, the film deploys random flashbacks (with occasional magical realist flourishes) to various incidents in her life in order to track her evolution from defiant child who stood up to her violent father (Stephen Graham) to self-determining woman able to conquer the male-dominated club circuit with racist and fat-shaming jokes of her own.
Along the way she's mentored by a terminally depressed veteran comic (Alun Armstrong) and meets a cartoonishly conceived bookseller (a woefully miscast Paddy Considine), whose Pygmalion fantasies she's more than happy to exploit as she escapes her brutal marriage to the knuckle-dragging Bob (played by the film's writer Tony Pitts). Blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos from the likes of Vic Reeves and John Bishop capture some of the sad, broken spirit of the variety circuit, but the film's determination to avoid the rise-fall-redemption character arc of the biopic (even a fictional biopic) backfires. By plotting a more elliptical and impressionistic course - one perhaps inspired by Nicholas Winding Refn's Bronson or the Andy Serkis-starring Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll - Funny Cow might give some sense of the chaos of its protagonist's life, but that's not the same thing as making it compelling on screen. In the end it feels like a hollow and rather pointless exercise.Alistair Hawkness, The Scotsman, 20th April 2018