There are a few overwhelmingly fortuitous coincidences, a helping of contrivances and a decent amount of predictability in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. All of these are easily overlooked thanks to an exceptional cast, a sensible blend of dark humor with dramatic overtones, and the inclusion of several creative fantasy sequences. Zach Galifianakis and Keir Gilchrist headline a host of finely crafted and expertly portrayed characters, full of quirks, eccentricities and of course a bit of insanity. Paralleling this inspired lunacy are unique cutaways, flashbacks, and visions of a preferable reality, one where animated drawings come to life and everyone is a rock star. These moments of visual creativity, paired with an assortment of spirited characters, heighten the experience beyond similarly themed examinations of finding oneself amongst the delirious whirlpool of life’s demands. Teenager Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) finds himself on the verge of suicide due to the surmounting pressure of his elitist schooling and the general depression that has crept over him for many years. Unable to go through with the act, Craig instead checks himself into a psychiatric ward where he’s forced to stay for five days in the adult division while the children’s section undergoes renovation. Instantly doubtful of his decision upon introduction to the hospital’s numerous sociopaths and schizophrenics, Craig’s outlook steadily changes when he befriends the whimsically eccentric Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and finds a kindred spirit in Noelle (Emma Roberts). As Craig attempts to help his newfound friends look past their own insecurities, he gradually begins to realize how much he truly has to live for.
At first, it’s difficult to side with Craig. He didn’t have a tumultuous childhood and he isn’t the victim of physical or sexual abuse. He pines for a girl he can’t have and vomits at the thought of anything related to the advanced summer school his family expects him to attend. He claims to be incredibly messed up, but truthfully has nothing to kill himself over – it’s basic adolescence.
The film is like a cross between One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and 500 Days of Summer, taking a serious, even devastating mental setting and filling it with quirkiness, light humor and pleasantly thought-provoking spirit. In addition are the numerous methods of creative editing, from animation, to still frames, to archival footage, to slow-motion. As Craig narrates, he uses out-of-body experiences, fantastical situations, memories, other people’s pasts and colorful asides to visually demonstrate his thoughts and feelings. This includes a song-and-dance sequence, a wide array of music, and creative cinematography.
With Jim Gaffigan in the opening sequence, It’s Kind of a Funny Story sets the tone for a thoroughly amusing film that never forces ideals or humor with a heavy hand. A psychiatric ward is the perfect place to cull idiosyncratic, unconventional minds for an unlikely support system. Zach Galifianakis is outstanding as the mysteriously committed Bobby, with constantly disheveled hair and permanent, tattered green sweater. His intriguing, complicated, relatable, sympathetic role allows the audience to connect with Craig, who must learn to be appreciative of what he has and to realize the difference between real mental crises and insignificant problems beyond his control. The simple therapy needed to relieve Craig of imagined stresses wittily comes from a loony bin of agreeably simple, cordial souls.- The Massie Twins