Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" unsentimental and offbeat gem



It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010) 
101 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B +

Eventually, the kids will be all right in "It's Kind of a Funny Story," which marks the third film by writing/directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Based on Ned Vizzini's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, this loony-bin dramedy finds 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) off his Zoloft, clinically depressed, and suicidal, so he check himself into the psych ward of a Brooklyn hospital. Surrounded by genuinely crazy people, he learns his problems really aren't that bad, but he stays on longer, finding a makeshift mentor in fellow patient Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and shows interest in a sweet teenage cutter named Noelle (Emma Roberts). 

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" is alternately unsentimental, engaging, and offbeat for a film entirely set in the depressing walls of a hospital wing, with story shades of "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" and tonal references to John Hughes' "The Breakfast Club." The film really listens to and understands its characters, even if the extraneous hallway crazies are just two-dimensional types. Gilchrist, who could be taken for Justin Long's younger brother, is low-key, believable, and identifiable as Craig. (Unfairly, other critics dismiss him as “flat” but he's playing a character who might be depressed!) Though the flashiest performer, the bushy-bearded Galifianakis shows a surprising stretch in his darker, more damaged portrayal of a manchild. He actually feels quite fit as a patient, especially his amusingly kooky entrance in doc scrubs as a Doogie Howser type (because the ER has the best coffee), and he displays a nice sensei-samurai chemistry with Gilchrist. Roberts, maturing in each role she takes, is appealing and natural here as Noelle. Going against the cliché, Viola Davis brings empathy and down-to-earthiness to her role as the psychiatrist. Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan, respectively, are warmly maternal and overbroad as Craig's parents, but their roles aren't really explored. 

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" is not without its problems—it could've cut deeper and not settled for some pat clichés—but co-writer and directors Boden and Fleck find a way of balancing tone, making their film darkly funny but also sneakily touching and inspirational. The mopey story is livened up with the inclusion of Craig's artistic drawings springing to life with whimsical animation, as well as a relatable, exuberantly campy moment where Craig is coaxed into belting out the vocals for Queen's “Under Pressure” in music appreciation and imagines him and his groupmates as glam rock stars. 

It's kind of a funny story, but the film endears and you won't need antidepressants after you admit yourself.

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