Maxine Peake. Oh my. Maxine Peake is Funny Cow and Funny Cow is utterly and completely Maxine Peake. Both the movie title and her only stated character name, Funny Cow is a product of her environment. Growing up learning to live with her alcoholic father's abuse has left her with a robust personality that is both her only way of surviving and her cross to bear. Things look up when she meets Bob and moves in above a laundrette with him, but not for long. Soon Bob is treating her as her father did and the prospect of spending the rest of her life in a laundrette with nothing but aggravation to come home to is too awful to face.
A chance encounter with stand up comic Lenny (Alun Armstrong) on his last stage life leads Funny Cow to audition for a local promoter, an audition that goes hilariously badly for the other acts and uncomfortably badly for her. She forms a bond with Lenny though, despite his solid assertion that 'woman just aren't funny' and when he decides to call it a night, she steps up onto the stage of a local working mens' club and destroys a member of the audience (Steve Money, brilliantly credited as 'Fat Cunt), winning the rest of the audience over.
Maxine Peake part narrates the movie as it flashes back and forth between her childhood and snapshots of her as she becomes a success. Her 'show' at that point taking the form of a warts and all description of her life, bouncing from abuse to abuse, all the time keeping her head above water with her resilience and humour. A brief visit to her brother's house where he is dominated by a wife who cannot stand Funny Cow, shows us the effects of the toxic childhood environment both siblings endured.
Visiting a local bookstore, she meets Angus (Paddy Considine), a mild mannered intellectual who briefly gives some hope of a normal life. Normal of course means very different things to the two characters here and it's not long before she admits that she can no more make that relationship work than she can the one with the abusive Bob.
Funny Cow is a dark trip, laced with brutal humour. Considine's character seems like a bit of a misstep, he really belongs in a different movie, but that doesn't stop this being a great, character driven, movie. Peake is the beginning and end, utterly embodying the determined, independent and flawed central character. As she stoops to the lowest common denominator to win over the crowds, it's clear that she completely understands what she is doing and how she is manipulating the prejudices of the working class audience - something Lenny comprehensively failed to do. Ultimately all this gives her is a shield from her own loathing, gifted to her by her horrendous father but it's something. And it proves without doubt that Lenny was way off in his earlier assertion.