Rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material and language.
Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts
Written by: Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck (based on the novel “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Ned Vizzini)
Directed by: Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck
If I was still a teenager and was doing movie reviews, I would sit here and proclaim to you that It’s Kind Of a Funny Story was my new favorite movie. Being 24 and more critical than I was back then, I can’t say that; however, it’s still excellent and coupled with the release of Easy A last month, it seems like the Fall of 2010 is seeing a resurgence in smart movies aimed at teenagers. It’s just too bad that this one wasn’t in as wide of a release, because I think with more exposure, this could affect a lot of people in a positive way.
Keir Gilchrist stars as Craig, an overstressed New York City teenager who snaps and decides to check into a local mental institution to get some help. While there, he meets Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), an adult patient who sees something in Craig and befriends him/takes him under his wing. Craig also meets and falls for fellow teen patient Noelle (Emma Roberts), and through these two relationships he begins to make sense of his life over the course of his five day stay.
I’ve got to get this off my chest right away: this is the best I have ever seen Zach Galifianakis. He reigns in his usual manic insanity, keeping some for moments here and there, and infuses it with heart. Although you only get a few glimpses of the turmoil that Bobby is going through, the way that Galifianakis portrays the character gives you an idea of how it affects him without ever really saying it abruptly. After being hit over the head with Due Date trailers all summer and seeing him resorting to the broad comedy that made him a mainstream star in the first place, it was nice to see him hunker down and do something real and not something that’s just “awkward line, awkward line, zany comment, look at me I’m nuts!” and hopefully as his movie career continues on, he’ll get the opportunity to do more roles like this to counterbalance the Due Date-like fare that will be paying his bills. If you had any doubts on if Zach Galifianakis was just a one trick pony, see this. You’ll be surprised.
Let’s not discount the rest of the cast. Keir Gilchrist, in his first feature leading role, plays kind of your traditional mopey teenager, but Craig feels absolutely real and I really connected with him. Minus his stress vomiting, he reminded me of how I was as a teenager: completely stressed out, scared, unable to put the pieces together. When watching him on screen, I felt like I was watching an extension of myself.
Emma Roberts is also really great here, and this is the first time I’ve ever really seen her act outside of that old Nickelodeon show Unfabulous (yeah yeah I admit to watching an episode or two, sue me). Her character doesn’t really have much in the way of depth outside of some scars, and she’s overly quirky at some points, but as a viewer, you get why Craig would be attracted to her. Considering that all she had to work with essentially was writing notes and drawing pictures, she made it work and even I fell in love with the character by the end.
I’m relatively sure that the psychiatric ward that provides the setting in It’s Kind of a Funny Story is not in any way a realistic portrayal of how they are in real life, but the team of Boden and Fleck really bring it to life with interesting characters, from Craig’s hermit Egyptian roommate to Bobby’s two best friends in the ward (who I wish we saw more of to be honest, they were a goddamn riot). You kind of have to suspend disbelief to accept the fact that the psych ward is one giant happy family and that it’s totally fun to be in, but if you can do that, you can love this movie.
In addition to the story, I also really dug the way that Boden and Fleck shot the movie. Gilchrist narrates the movie, but instead of just static voiceovers, there are occasions when you’ll see him on the screen acting out what he’s talking about while saying it or at least being in the background of a scene he’s decribing. In one instance, when Craig is talking about his best friend Aaron (Thomas Mann), he shows up on a movie screen (Casablanca inspired) to talk about how Aaron started a film society, and then on the computer screen when he talks about how Aaron created a program to turn vinyl into mp3′s. These little flourishes kept the narration sequences alive and stopped them from dragging the film down. There are little animated sequences too that spring from Craig’s drawing of a brain map that were beautiful to watch and actually made sense; they weren’t there just to be there, they actually had purpose.
My favorite scene, however, had to do with the song “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen, where it turns into this giant music video. Normally that would come off lame (see: The Comebacks), but here it doesn’t feel out of place and it feels organic, and it gave me goosebumps. It may be my favorite scene of any movie this year.
There are a few problems I had with It’s Kind Of a Funny Story that kept me from freaking out and calling it the best movie everrrrr. The way the ending is shot left me unfulfilled, and there’s an MTV Cribs segment in one of the narration scenes that was painfully unfunny and I had to hold back from groaning audibly. Some jokes misfire, and Bobby’s two best friends, my favorite of the side characters, kind of get tucked away for a good half of the movie and never really show up again except for a brief second at the end. More over, you only get a sense of what’s wrong with everyone else and never get full explanations on any of the main characters. They can give a whole reason why a side character who has two lines was in there, but Zach Galifianakis’ character only gets two lines to explain it? Not a good trade off.
It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is still a great movie though, especially if you’re younger. The story is relatively simple, but the emotions that Craig and company experience are powerful and very realistic. If you ever were depressed in high school, you’ll relate to this almost too easily. The writer/director team of Boden and Fleck have created an excellent movie, filled with funny and poignant moments, and turned what could have been a dry narration-heavy story into something compelling to watch (now maybe I’ll have to check out Half Nelson). It’s Kind Of A Funny Story isn’t a slam dunk, but it’s smart and definitely worth your time.