There is two sides to every movie geek, and I am no exception. On one side, it’s all blood and gore and beautiful, endless snark. On the other side . . . well . . .
I have a weakness for quirky love stories, dysfunctional family movies, and tales about rebellious and/or misunderstood teenagers who may or may not live in mental wards.
Basically, I like Focus Features.
Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is a stressed out teenager who’s worried that he might kill himself. He accidentally checks himself into a mental ward. Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts help him find the meaning of life.
1. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a relatively light-hearted, enjoyable sort of movie that you’ll probably forget the minute it’s over.
On one hand, the film is not needlessly melodramatic or artificially tragic, and that works to serve the story. It’s tonally consistent and doesn’t try to be more than what it is—It’s Kind of a Funny Story is not the next One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or, for that matter, the next Girl, Interrupted. And it doesn’t pretend to be.
On the other hand . . . It’s Kind of a Funny Story is almost a little too cute, and while I appreciate some of its humor . . . there’s nothing that really gripping about it. I watched the movie, I got the message, I laughed quite a few times . . . but nothing stuck with me after it was over. Nothing seemed particularly insightful or challenging or fresh, and while I could watch the movie again, I probably never will.
2. I do think that all the acting was fairly well done, though.
Craig could easily be an annoying protagonist. In less capable hands, he might be the kind of character that you’d want to slap around and say, “Stop whining! No, seriously, stop whining! There’s absolutely nothing’s wrong with you!”
But Keir Gilchrist is funny and likable, and he keeps Craig just on this side of relatable. He also does a decent job with his voiceover, and as I’ve noted in other reviews, that’s not always an feat to accomplish. (Although, admittedly, he has better material to work with here than, say, Jacob Vargas in Devil.)
I enjoyed The Hangover like the rest of America, but after seeing promos for Due Date, I was a little worried that Zach Galifianakis would continue to play the same crazy, slightly brain-damaged man-child in every movie he made. I mean, clearly he’s good at it and all, but I can get bored kind of quickly and anyway, variety is the spice of life, right?
So, it’s neat to see Galifianakis in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, where he plays Bobby, another patient at the mental ward. Admittedly, Bobby is a little crazy too, but Galifanaki’s performance in this movie is miles away from the one he gave in The Hangover. He’s rather sweet here, and his scenes with Keir Gilchrist make the whole movie.
I was—perhaps unreasonably—a little worried about Emma Roberts before I saw this film. I don’t really know her range as an actress. The only other thing I’ve ever seen her in is Scream 4, where she’s . . . not bad, exactly, but not quite as good as I wanted her to be, either. I was concerned that she would take up a lot of the movie being standoffish and traumatized and irritatingly rebellious, but her character, Noelle, is actually a smaller part than I had anticipated, and I think Roberts is serviceable enough in the role. I still think she probably displays the weakest acting in the film, but I don’t want to to slap Noelle around like I had expected, either, and that’s worth something.
3. Also in the cast: Aasif Mandvi, Jeremy Davies, Viola Davis, and Lauren Graham.
Mandvi’s in the movie for approximately four minutes, but hey, I like the guy, so I’m giving a shout-out. Jeremy Davies doesn’t exactly have a lot to do, either, but he wears a fedora and lounges about with his soft voice and his sad eyes—frankly, I’m just amazed that he isn’t playing a patient. Viola Davis is a psychiatrist, and there’s just something I like about her scenes with Craig—she has sort of a maternal vibe, but she’s never too empathetic, too sentimental. She really does seem like a psychiatrist to me.
And as far as Lauren Graham goes . . .
She plays Craig’s mom, and it’s such a small part, but Graham has such a wonderfully expressive face. She gets so much across without even speaking. I really want to see her in more things. Maybe I’ll have to give Parenthood another go. (Probably not, but maybe. It seemed like a decent enough show—if not exactly my kind of thing—and I like Peter Krause and Mae Whitman a lot too.)
4. A personal side note: I’m amused that the adult mental ward is called 3 North. There’s a 3 North in the hospital I work at too, but it’s all new moms and kids and the occasional gynecology patient and med/surg overflow. We don’t actually have a wing for psych patients at our hospital. Hell, I’m not even certain if we have actual psych facilities in the county. It’s not good.
5. If we did have a psychiatric wing in the hospital, though, I’d hope to hell it wasn’t run like the one in this movie. I mean, I know It’s Kind of a Funny Story isn’t really striving for realism, but these people seem to be excessively lax about watching their suicidal patients. Never mind the lack of sitters or cameras or what-have-you . . . if you have a designed a psych ward where your mentally disturbed patients can easily sneak out for coffee, basketball games, or heart-to-hearts on top of the fucking ROOF . . . well, clearly, you deserve to be attacked by giant, rabid llamas.
6. Speaking of a distinct lack of realism . . . there are a number of freeze frames and fantasy sequences that I really enjoy in this movie. They’re light-hearted, funny, and fit the tone of the film well. The best one, of course, is the band scene.
7. And while some of the music selections are a bit on the nose (I think it must be a legal requirement to at least reference The Pixies in a film where sanity is discussed and/or questioned), I can’t help it . . . I’m a sucker for Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” I loved this bit.
Now, to a very brief Spoiler Section . . .
What I like about the ending is that nobody dies. Craig starts the road to recovery—in his case, learning to stop stressing the fuck out and doing things that make him happy, like drawing—and makes a date with Noelle to go see Vampire Weekend. Nothing says happy ending like Vampire Weekend. Meanwhile, Bobby doesn’t kill himself. You find out that he’s tried, like, six or seven times in the past, and I was happy to discover that the movie doesn’t end with him hanging from a shower rod or something. It’s not all giggles and indie rock bands, though . . . there’s a way that Bobby holds himself away from the rest of the group near the end of the film, smiling sadly at them . . . it’s a good, bittersweet sort of shot that keeps the movie from being a little too ridiculously optimistic. You want to think that he’s going to make it, but you’ve got to wonder. He’s clearly more fucked up than the young’uns, and he’s got a long way to go.
So, I like that . . . I like the mostly positive note this film ends on, that it’s sweet without being ludicrously syrupy and sentimental . . . but by the end of the movie, I also kind of feel like . . . okay . . . AND? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point to the movie, and honestly, I’m not sure how to fix that. Like I said, I don’t want the film to be needlessly tragic, but without any kind of real emotional resonance . . . it never rises anything above ‘just okay’ for me.
Witty and light-hearted but ultimately forgettable. Keir Gilchrist and Zach Galifianakis’s relationship makes the whole movie, though.
Any mental illness can be fought with a good heart, perseverance, and access to obscure Egyptian records. Also, don’t kill yourself. Killing yourself is no bueno.