Craig, the anxiety-ridden teen protagonist of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, seems to have a pretty decent life. He’s got brains, well-off if somewhat clueless parents, admission to a prestigious New York public high school and grand ambitions that stand a chance of being realized (maybe not the daydream about being president, but certainly the hopeful wishes for some eventual unspecified success).
But Craig (Keir Gilchrist of United States of Tara) can’t stop thinking about killing himself. He’s depressed, in love with his best friend’s girl, sick from the pressure of his father’s plans for him, and he has randomly quit taking his Zoloft. So early one Sunday morning he checks himself into a psychiatric ward.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story follows Craig’s five days – the minimum requirement for a designated potential suicide … in the hospital, during which he gets scared, meets a kind psychiatrist (Viola Davis) and makes friends with other troubled patients, including Bobby (Zach Galifianakis of The Hangover). Craig also falls for a pretty girl who happens to be in his coed ward and admits that his life isn’t so bad – just in time.
The film was directed and written by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the team behind the Half Nelson, about the complicated friendship between a junkie teacher and his middle-school student. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is far lighter in tone, more formulaic and easily forgettable. Unlike Half Nelson, a poignant, piercing, in-depth character study, it’s more comedy than a realistic portrait of depression, so there’s never any doubt that things will work out just fine for Craig.
The movie is amusing at times, with the sort of gentle humor that inspires you to smile to yourself rather than guffaw. The filmmakers rely on an array of emo tricks (ironic narration, funky architectural drawings of a city that come to life, an impromptu musical performance of Under Pressure sung by the patients in full glitterwear) for laughs, and the results are more or less positive.
This is a film about depression, though, and it comes awfully close to trivializing its subject by suggesting that all Craig needed, really, was a cute girl to like him back. But the cast is effective enough at reflecting mild irreverence throughout, and the script’s low-key humor keeps the story from becoming unbearably maudlin. It’s Kind of a Funny Story lacks substance, but after you’ve spent a short time in this ward, you have to agree with Craig: These crazies aren’t so bad.
Cast: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Jeremy Davies.
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck.
Screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini.
Producers: Ben Browning, Kevin Misher.
A Focus Features release. Running time: 101 minutes. Mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material, language. Playing at area theaters.