It's Kind of a Funny Story
Director : s Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Screenplay : Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (based on the novel by Ned Vizzini)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Keir Gilchrist (Craig), Zach Galifianakis (Bobby), Emma Roberts(Noelle), Lauren Graham (Lynn), Jim Gaffigan (George), Dana De Vestern(Alyssa), Aasif Mandvi (Dr. Mahmoud), Zoë Kravitz (Nia), Thomas Mann (Aaron), Viola Davis (Dr. Eden Minerva), Bernard White (Muqtada)
The title of It’s Kind of a Funny Story is unfortunately indicative of the film itself, which is kind of funny, kind of touching, kind of moving, kind of odd, kind of quirky, and kind of lots of other thing, but, it’s never fully anything. Set in an adult psychiatric care unit at a Manhattan hospital, it has an inherently depressing setting that co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar), who also adapted by the semi-autobiographical young adult novel by Ned Vizzini, attempt to alleviate via a mixture of dark humor and candy-colored whimsy that veers from animated interiors of a character’s mind, to fourth-wall-breaking direct address, to dream sequences, to one stand-out sequence in which all the patients on the unit are recast in a wild fantasy as ’80s-era glam rockets belting out David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure.”
The central character is a stressed-out 16-year-old named Craig (Keir Gilchrist), who is more normal than he thinks he is. Buckling under the pressures of going to an elite prep school that expects nothing but the highest achievement, a longtime crush on his best friend’s girlfriend, and continual expectations from his generally clueless father (Jim Gaffigan), Craig begins to seriously consider suicide, which sends him straight to the hospital where he checks himself in thinking that they will give him a quick cure-all for his depression. Instead, he is admitted for a mandatory five days on the adult unit because the teen unit is under renovation, which is more than enough time for him to ingratiate himself into the quirky community of Cuckoo’s Nest-lite characters who have been there much longer than he has.
His first connection is with Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), a curiously personable depressive who immediately takes Craig under his wing, shows him the ropes, and then introduces him to small, harmless means of rebellion, like sneaking off the unit by dressing up in scrubs. Craig also immediately forges a bond with the ward’s only other teen patient, a cute girl named Noelle (Emma Roberts) who has been admitted for attempting suicide and cutting herself, both serious maladies that Roberts’ genial performance largely papers over--which is what the film pretty much does with all of the issues and problems that are inherent to a group of characters who have been committed to a psychiatric unit. Therefore, your response to It’s Kind of a Funny Story will hinge largely on how willing you are to accept Boden and Fleck’s fanciful tone, which wants us to take the characters’ problems seriously only enough to generate some sympathy and pathos, but not so much that we might at any point be disturbed. In other words, the film is constantly flirting with the threat of trivialization. Granted, this is hardly the first time filmmakers have taken a light approach to dark subject matter, and when done well it can help us to see the world differently, which Funny Story does sporadically in its best moments.
The scenes between Gilchrist and Galifianakis are quite effective, primarily because the two actors have a natural rapport and manage a delicate balance between their depressive tendencies and their desire to find silver in the gray. Those who think of Galifianakis primarily as the obnoxious tag-along in The Hangover (2009) will be particularly surprised at the range and depth of his performance; at times he is clearly being used as dry comic relief, but there are also numerous scenes in which he makes us feel Bobby’s inherent dilemma (which is, by extension, the dilemma of most of the patients): He wants to be out in the world and reconnect with all that he has lost, but he has also found a place of safety in the hospital that is hard to let go of. If we can be bold and extrapolate that dynamic between feeling safe and risking ourselves for something more, we can quickly see just how applicable it is to us all.
Copyright © 2010 James Kendrick
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