Well, yeah, kind of...
Image: Focus Features
The UK release of the latest film from the Half-Nelson writer-director team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck has been very quiet indeed. With expectations lowered by muted reviews from the US press and a six million dollar box office gross, maybe the distributors were hoping nobody would notice this movie creeping into cinemas.
Stressed teen Craig (Keir Gilchrist) has been thinking about killing himself. He decides to check himself into a mental facility, and despite initial misgivings and panic, he begins a journey of self-discovery, aided by two fellow patients: the beautiful Noelle (Emma Roberts) and wise-cracking but troubled Bobby (Zach Galifianakis).
It’s Kind of a Funny Story isn’t a total disaster. The first twenty minutes are undeniably weak, hindered by a surprisingly flat performance from Gilchrist (who’s one of the best things about TV’s The United States of Tara), and a script that can’t decide if it wants to be a drama with comic elements or a comedy with dramatic elements.
After Craig talks himself into getting admitted, he’s shocked to discover that the teen ward is undergoing renovations and he’ll have to stay on the adult floor. This causes him to panic and attempts to talk his way back out again, but there’s nothing remotely scary there. The patients immediately welcome Craig as one of their own and he becomes “a rock star” as he comes out of his shell. It’s here that some unease creeps in. The filmmakers aren’t exactly glamorising the ward, and putting a human face on mental illness is always commendable, but Boden and Fleck almost completely chicken out of showing the darker side.
The best part of the film is undoubtedly Galifianakis. After bad notices for Due Date, he reveals himself to be a fine and nuanced actor here in a role that seems like it could have been written for him. Initially introduced as a funny mentor figure, Bobby is given more depth than any other character. A scene in which he tears the room apart after a bad interview is the closest the film comes to showing that darkness we were talking about. On the basis of this film, Galifianakis should do more dramatic work.
The rest of the cast are capable if not outstanding. While Gilchrist isn’t great, Roberts (niece of Julia) does well with an incredibly underwritten role. Viola Davis (Doubt) and Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan) do solid work as the kindly psychiatrist and laid-back ward supervisor respectively, as do Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) and Jim Gaffigan (Going the Distance) as Craig’s parents.
Boden and Fleck’s directorial choices too often veer towards flights of fancy, with narrated flashbacks, photo montages, and animated sequences too jarring and knowing. On the plus side, a Glee-esque musical number with the group doing Queen’s Under Pressure is staged with enough bravado and beard glitter to work.
It’s obviously the point of the film that Craig’s problems are nothing compared to some of the other patients’, but that doesn’t help us care about him. But after a rocky first thirty minutes, there were moments in It’s Kind of a Funny Story that I really enjoyed. It’s too bad that they’re mostly outweighed by poor choices.
Some funny and touching moments and a terrific performance from Zach Galifianakis can’t quite save this misjudged comedy-drama from being occasionally enjoyable fluff.