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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.76%
Worth A Look: 0%
Pretty Bad: 33.33%
Total Crap: 4.76%

3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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It's Kind of a Funny Story
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by Jay Seaver

"Kind of funny's better than not funny at all."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: The title of "It's Kind of Funny Story" is its own review. It's just a matter of where you want to put the emphasis. It's got enough jokes and amusing moments to qualify as a "funny story", but plays things so safe that "kind of" might sum it up better. That's a shame, and a surprise, considering how engrossing the previous two features from the team of Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck ("Half Nelson" and "Sugar") are.

As the film opens, 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is about ready to throw himself off a bridge. He's not a victim of abuse or anything; at worst his mother (Lauren Graham) is a bit nervous and his father (Jim Gaffigan) has high expectations. He's on medication for depression, and his best friend Aaron (Thomas Mann) is dating Nia (Zoe Kravitz), the girl he adores. Instead, he goes to a psychiatric hospital and checks himself in for observation - not realizing that (1) the juvenile ward is shut down for renovations, so he'll be with the adults, and (2) it's a minimum five day stay. So he's going to be spending the better part of a week with people who have come much closer to killing themselves than he has - notably Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), who pretends to be a doctor to sneak outside, and Noelle (Emma Roberts), the other teenager on the floor.

Funny Story is an easy movie to like, in large part because Fleck, Boden, and the cast do a respectable job of creating a cast of characters that are able to sell a joke without seeming to treat mental illness in an excessively cavalier manner (disclaimer: I have never had to deal with such matters directly). Craig's family and friends are exaggerated, but for the most part manage to balance being funny with showing genuine concern while also having difficulty relating to him; they're flawed but generally likable characters performed well. The patients are by and large confused and frustrated by how their brains just won't send the correct signals, and while some like Matthew Maher's Humble seem a little more zany than troubled, others like Craig's Egyptian roommate Muqtada (Bernard White) are agonizingly paralyzed.

The main characters are also well-played. The stand-out is Galifianakis, who does fine work in playing Bobby as someone right on the edge of holding it together. It's a bit of a variation on his usual "funny but nervous-making" persona, but one where a collapse is always near, though an outburst isn't much further off. Emma Roberts has Noelle near the end of her stay, a little intimidating in her directness but not looking to use it. And Gilchrist makes Craig a nice, relatable kid who does have a personality between his tics and need to be a blank slate on which the audience can project themselves. He finds well in portraying Craig's depression as something that he can usually live with, but which can, with the right stimulus, become crippling.

The movie also shows this by spending a lot of time within Craig's head. There are dream sequences, flashbacks and fantasies which feature Craig addressing the camera directly, and animations from the "brain maps" that he draws as a hobby and as prat of art therapy. There's potential to overuse these techniques, which Boden and Fleck mostly steer clear of. Some work much better than others: The opening sequence is odd in a clever way, and the animated bits are at the very least nifty to watch, but some of the others feel forced, especially when Gilchrist appears in the spot of a younger version of the character; the idea is reasonable, but the execution sometimes seems off.

A bigger problem is that things often seem a bit too easy for Craig. That's not meant to trivialize depression as a medical condition, just to say that within the story, he never seems to be challenged by anything. We know he's a high achiever academically to start with, but twice, he plays down an artistic ability, only to not only be capable, but brilliant. His illness is responsible for cute girls either meeting or being more attracted to him. There's sometimes the impression that he does more for some of his fellow patients in a week than the doctors have done in a month. Even for a story about Craig discovering a measure of self-worth, things seem a little too easy.

Sure, the closing narration acknowledges that to an extent, but in doing so also says that recognizing a problem doesn't make it go away. "It's Kind of a Funny Story" is kind of funny, but disappointingly lightweight, given its setting and writer/directors.

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originally posted: 09/22/10 23:53:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Boston Film Festival For more in the 2010 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/18/11 Monday Morning Enough with friggin' Zach Galifianakis already. 2 stars
11/03/10 art depressing,DEPRESSING!!!!,86 this one! 1 stars
10/18/10 Marcia I loved it. It leans towards the alternative type of movie. 5 stars
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  08-Oct-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Feb-2011


  DVD: 08-Feb-2011

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