Directed by: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts
It’s no secret that most teenagers harbor a lot of angst that, when allowed to build up over an extended period of time, can have an undesirably adverse effect on their lives. Sure, a lot of us tend to dismiss their problems as superficial and their behavior overdramatic, but when you actually put some thought into it, what else does an adolescent really have to worry about at 16? Between constant pressure to excel both in and out of the classroom and raging teenage hormones, it can be safely assumed that any and all stress stems from these factors and will inevitably lead to long bouts of depression. It’s Kind of a Funny Story follows one such teen, Craig, as his inability to cope with life in general begins to trigger suicidal thoughts involving a plunge into the East River from atop the Brooklyn Bridge. Feeling that such an action would devastate those closest to him, Craig decides to check himself into the psych ward at the local hospital in an attempt to rectify the problem and get his life back on track.
Comparing Boden and Fleck’s latest to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is certainly justifiable based on principle, what with a troubled individual reluctantly entering a mental hospital in order to experience the one catharsis that will most likely change his life for the better. On the surface, yes, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is indeed reminiscent of the film in question and even exhibits more of the same in surrounding our protagonist with offbeat individuals that rely on his help as much as he relies on theirs to get where they want to be. Obvious similarities aside, the film’s strongest attribute is without a doubt its honest take on what it’s like to be a teenager struggling with all the constant pressures and insecurities they often have a hard time coping with on their own; constituents that often merge and elicit suicidal thoughts comparable to Craig’s.
Such valuable insight does more than just shed light on the subject at hand, as it also serves as a means of fleshing out not just Craig himself as the film’s central character and narrator, but the select few individuals that have a lasting impact on him and subsequently change his general outlook on life. As Craig becomes acquainted with those in question, Bobby and the beautiful young Noelle notably, it becomes more and more apparent that maybe he doesn’t have it so bad after all, and that life wouldn’t be itself if there wasn’t an obstacle or two to overcome here and there no matter how difficult things are at first. Despite the best intentions of a reasonably worthwhile script, Craig’s road to recovery begins to mimic the simplicity of such a hackneyed philosophy, and while moments of conflict do exist throughout the narrative, each instance is rather easily resolved through a mild-mannered joke or two and a brief heart-to-heart chat.
The characters themselves and the circumstances surrounding their stay at the hospital remain intriguing enough, with Galifianakis proving he’s at least somewhat capable of handling semi-serious roles via an impressive portrayal of Bobby, a man who’s playful disposition serves only to mask his deep-seated emotional issues regarding his home life. Keir Gilchrist aptly handles his responsibilities as the male lead, putting forth a wholly believable effort while showcasing some mildly impressive chemistry with his onscreen cohorts. As for the rest of the inpatients, Emma Roberts, despite her peculiar lack of screen time, is also a treat, and the rest of the supporting characters aren’t unfavorably portrayed as off-the-wall loonies and remain relatively down-to-earth throughout Craig’s brief stint with them.
Although a likable yet subtle sense of humor corresponds with its title, It’s Kind of a Funny Story doesn’t end up being as engaging as one would hope given the overall seriousness of its protagonist’s predicament. While Boden and Fleck’s ability to convey the perils of being a teenager in a convincing manner remain one of its strongest suits, an overly familiar underlying message plagues the film almost instantly, prohibiting one from enjoying everything else it has to offer to the fullest. On the bright side, a handful of impressive performances, solid script and an often charming visual flair elevate this otherwise bland coming-of-age tale into something slightly above average, but not by much.