Maxine Peake is wonderful as a female comedian.Louis Barfe, The Daily Express, 29th 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
Maxine Peake captivates in a film that takes a serious look at being funny.Emma Simmonds, The List, 16th April 2018
It is unfortunate that nothing Maxine Peake's stand-up comic says, either on or off stage, is remotely amusing.Ryan Gibley, The New Statesman, 13th April 2018
Some critics have questioned the use of humour in depicting this dark time in Russia's history. Isn't it in bad taste? Perhaps. Nevertheless it is a work of genius from the master of dark sardonic humour. Iannucci has triumphed again.David Kerr, Counter Culture UK, 31st October 2017
I'll keep this review brief because if you have good taste in comedy you will have seen The Death Of Stalin already.Bruce Dessau, Beyond The Joke, 26th October 2017
Weighing in at a relatively sprightly 106 minutes, The Death of Stalin is a clever and accomplished movie, well worth investigating. This is Iannucci playing to his strengths as a political satirist and mostly coming up with the goods. Interesting though, that despite a script peppered with crackling dialogue, the film's funniest scene is an entirely visual one. Go figure.Philip Caveney, Bouquets & Brickbats, 23rd October 2017