by Tim Ross
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is, well, kind of a funny movie. It’s kind of a tender movie, kind of a quirky movie, kind of a poignant movie and, most of the time, kind of an enjoyable movie.
Meet 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist), who suffers from many of the same teen angst issues all teens face. He’s in love with his best friend’s girl and fights the shame of having a sensitive gag reflex when under stress. High expectations from his parents (Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan) aren’t helping, as he’s pressured to make top grades and is putting off applying to a prestigious college. He’s a bit of a mess, but what teen isn’t?
These compounded anxieties lead Craig to contemplate suicide, which then leads to a call to a suicide hotline resulting in a week’s stay on an adult psychiatric ward – thanks to a convenient plot contrivance.
The first person Craig meets at the hospital is a scrubs-wearing man named Bobby (Zach Galifanakis). Their first scene is darkly comic, quiet and unhurried. So is the rest of the film.
The story of Craig’s troubles and how he learns to manage them is played out in even, measured turns. The plot takes its time unfolding and Craig’s discoveries arrive one after the other in a steady, often funny stream of events.
One of the few faults with the film is it’s populated by a bunch of so-called unstable, mentally ill folks, none of whom seem the least bit put out by their present situation. The inhabitants in Craig’s new world are generally reasonable and wise, the ward is their home sweet home and they seem quite content in it. That may be true for many psychiatric wards, because mentally ill people are not stereotypes or clichés, but it’s also easy to assume that at least some of the patients would be at least somewhat distressed in such a high-stakes scenario.
Aside from that anomaly, the film is a pleasant stroll through Craig’s journey back to mental health that’s propelled by a dizzying array of techniques including flashbacks, flash forwards and flash sideways (trust me). Craig comes to terms with his flaws and how to fix them by creating schematic drawings of the world inside his brain and the brains of his friends while also finding solid ground in his growing affection for wardmate Noelle (Emma Roberts).
Noelle appreciates Craig’s refusal to judge her flaws and he appreciates her genuine attention. It’s refreshing to see teens fall for each other in a tender, paced (and ultimately deeper) fashion than the often awkward and shallow portrayal typical of this genre.
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is directed by Anna Bolden and Ryan Fleck in a confident and organized fashion. It knows what kind of movie it wants to be, and if you enjoy quirky, romantic dramedies, you’re in for a treat. If you don’t, chances are you’ll still enjoy the acting and subtle comic moments. It’s a smile movie, not a laugh out loud movie, but what’s wrong with a movie that makes you smile?