IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (2010)
Starring Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Zoë Kravitz, Aasif Mandvi, Daniel London and Adrian Martinez.
Screenplay by Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden.
Directed by Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden.
Distributed by Focus Features. 101 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Mental hospitals have gotten a pretty dark ride in movies. Obviously, the most important example is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, however the facilities have also been vilified in everything from Girl Interrupted to silly horrors like Gothika and Shutter Island.
However, we’ve never seen the lighter, more romantic side of the places. That is until now.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is, indeed, kind of a funny story about a young man who is having suicidal thoughts and decides to go to a local hospital to be checked up, not realizing that he will be committed for at least a week for observation.
That certainly doesn’t sound like a light storyline, but It’s Kind of a Funny Story is based on the semi-autobiographical young adult book of the same title by Ned Vizzini. Like its source material, the movie is not trying to look at the dark side of mental health problems – though it does acknowledge they are there – it just is trying to tell the story of a teen boy looking for some direction in his life.
Through his inadvertent commitment, he actually is able to come to terms with his problems and even find love and friendship.
The movie is written and directed with a surprisingly light touch by writing and directing partners Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden – whose previous movies Half Nelson and Sugar were both acclaimed, but much darker than this movie.
The makers say that this movie is sort of their tribute to the films of John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club) and it does capture that kind of effortless juggling of the serious and the frivolous.
And, you know what? Just because mental illness and suicidal tendencies are very serious subjects, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to look at them in a more whimsical way.
Keir Gilchrist, a first-time lead actor (he’s previously best known for playing the son in the Showtime series The United States of Tara) is wonderfully unaffected as Craig, the smart and sweet teen who is slightly overwhelmed by his specialty school, his driven father, an unrequited crush and nightmares of climbing the catwalks of the Verrazano Bridge (the same bridge, by the way, which was used in similar death-defying scenes over 30 years ago in Saturday Night Fever.)
Gilchrist is wonderfully natural in the role. A real teen, he is smart and sweet and – as co-writer Anna Boden pointed out in our recent interview, “He doesn’t have that obnoxious sense of irony that I see so often in teen film and TV these days.”
However, as good as Gilchrist is, the true revelation is comedian Zach Galifianakis as Bobby – an aging patient who takes responsibility for the kid and becomes a mentor towards his finding the way to mental health. Galifianakis has always tended to be used on film as pure comic relief, and while much of his performance is very funny, the actor also hits some seriously subtle shading and powerful dramatic moments. In fact, though his character is a supporting one, Galifianakis’ presence lingers over the film even when he is not on screen. Of all the good parts to the film, he is the best.
Emma Roberts is fine as well as a cute teen girl who is also committed – we don’t find out exactly why she is there, though she acknowledges that she sometimes cuts herself and she does have a few angry scars on her face. However, she is not really there so much to deconstruct her neuroses as she is there as a sweet potential love interest and as a symbol of Craig’s finding his way towards sanity.
The rest of the supporting cast is strong as well, with Viola Davis as an understanding psychiatrist, Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan as Craig’s oddball parents and Zoë Kravitz (daughter of rocker Lenny Kravitz and former Cosby kid Lisa Bonet) as the best-friend’s girl who had tempted Craig.
Does It’s Kind of a Funny Story make mental illness and hospitals seem to be just a bit too much fun? Possibly. However, that is specific to the story it is telling and the learning process which this young man experiences seems natural, funny and smart.
Not everything that is about a serious subject has to be serious. Like its title suggests, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a modest little story which has an offbeat and personal and different viewpoint on a subject which we think we know everything about.
More to the point, it’s a lot of fun.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 8, 2010.