Comedian Julia Scotti has been in the comedy business for decades, though to many it appeared that she started her career as a contestant on America’s Got Talent in 2016. But before that she’d been travelling around the US and Canada, taking to the stage to perform alongside names such as Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld in venues and on television as Rick Scotti. You see, Julia is transgender, and this film takes a look at her unique story.
Golden Globe nominated screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Sandler makes her directorial debut in this wonderfully sweet documentary that allows viewers to take a look into the life of Julia, leading up to her appearance on America’s Got Talent and beyond, as well as her personal history. We’re led through Julia’s life by Julia herself, and as such we get a somewhat interesting and whimsical version of events, with Julia injecting a great deal of humour into things.
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Over the course of the film we hear Julia tell of how all her life she never really felt happy or comfortable, how much of her life she never really felt like she knew how to be a boy, and as such turned to acting and comedy in order to try and fit in. Her comedy eventually turned into a stand-up career after she won a comedy competition; though this too would leave her feeling less than happy. Just like her career, her personal life struggled, especially her relationships. We learn that when she came to the realisation she was trans and needed to transition it resulted in a bad end to her marriage, and a separation with her children that would last fourteen years.
Thankfully, it’s not all heartbreak and gloom for Julia, as we get to see her not only having a wonderful relationship with her son now, but also getting to perform on stage once again across several venues. There’s one particular performance where her son joins her on stage and he refers to her as his mother, and Julia says its the first time she’s heard that; it’s a sweet moment, and you can see the genuine joy it brings her. The film has a lot of moments like that, times where you see these small moments of happiness that being her true self brings her, and it makes the film feel incredibly special.
The relationship with her son is one of the central parts of the film, due in part to him being an up-and-coming comedian himself. We get to see Julia acting as something of a mentor to him, as the two of them watch through her old stand-up routines and talk through the evolution of jokes and how to find the perfect routine to win over the audience. Whilst an interesting insight into how comedians make such routines feel effortless, it also allows Julia a look back at some parts of her life anew, especially an old routine where she, as Rick, makes jokes about trans people. Of course, these jokes being from the 1980s, they’re pretty unkind; but you also get to see Julia realise that it was her trying to work through her own thoughts and feelings, even before she herself knew she was trans.
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The film also features some well crafted animated segments when Julia is talking. One that works particularly well is a confrontation she had with one of her doctors following her recovery from a quadruple heart bypass, when he intentionally misgenders her repeatedly. It takes what could have been quite an unpleasant story, and instead plays it through the lens through which Julia experiences her life, one of both levity and huge personal strength.
The film is a really well made and thoughtful look at a woman who’s putting herself front and centre, who’s opening herself up to hate and criticism for who she is, all in the pursuit of bringing people joy and laughter. It shows the level of strength that trans people have, how difficult and painful their lives can be up to their transition when they’re pretending to be someone they’re not, and how much happiness being able to be themselves brings. Julia is a pretty amazing woman, and her story is one that I loved learning about, and hopefully it’s one that can help people realise that trans people are just like everyone else, and just as deserving of their love and respect.
Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is released on VOD on various digital platforms in the US on 1st June.