Puberty, pressure and all the other horrific details that come along with being a teenager make life at 16 difficult enough. Throw in a sprinkle of suicidal tendencies and a dash of institutionalization and you’ve got the recipe for It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, which, ironically, isn’t funny at all.
Brought to us by writer/director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson and Sugar), Funny Story is based on Ned Vizzini’s novel of the same title that tells the tale of a somewhat depressed teen who decides that a brief stay in the psychiatric ward just might be the answer to his problems. Keir Gilchrist (United States of Tara) plays Craig, a student at a highly competitive high school struggling to face the pressures of growing up in a turbulent world. One night after a half-hearted suicide attempt, Craig backs away from the Brooklyn Bridge and instead heads for the hospital. He is convinced that he needs to be committed to the psych ward, and after pleading with a doctor, his wish is granted.
It doesn’t take long for Craig to regret his ill-conceived decision. The first red flag goes up when he is informed that he’ll be staying in the adult psych ward since the teen ward is currently closed for renovation. The second occurs when he realizes his reclusive roommate, Muqtada (Bernard White) hasn’t left his quarters in weeks. Suddenly this place is starting to look more and more like a legitimate loony bin. But in true light-hearted movie fashion, it’s not all bad. Craig strikes up an odd friendship with fellow frustrated patient Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) whose sage advice seems very poignant, although it mostly comes from Bob Dylan lyrics. Craig also makes a romantic connection with Noelle (Emma Roberts), a girl-next-door type with a penchant for self mutilation.
Considering the intensity of the subject matter, It’s Kind Of A Funny story isn’t what I’d consider to be a funny story at all. Comedic moments are few and far between, and the film tackles issues like mental instability, suicide, and the suffocating pressure teens face as they are forced to grow up quickly. Not only are they expected to excel in their current endeavors, but also choose a definite path in life, all while facing the effects (both known and unknown) of a struggling economy.
The conclusion of the film is trite at best, and exhausted at worst. Craig’s time in the mental hospital actually improves his life, helps him gain some perspective and introduces him to new friends. He resolves to appreciate his life more, spend more time with potential girlfriends, and less time worrying about the implications that acceptance into a high school summer program will have on his entire future. Regardless of the predictable nature of the film, it’s not easy to knock the acting. Audiences will be surprised to see funny man du jour Zach Galifiankis take a turn for the dramatic, and pull it off with finesse. Young actors Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts also both give solid performances.
Although it’s not exactly what I expected, Funny Story is certainly a feel good flick that promotes patience, understanding and seems to leave us with this timeless message that often seems to fall by the wayside: live life one day at a time, or you just might end up in the psych ward.