- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
title can say a lot about a movie, but never has one been so literal than “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” which is quite fittingly, well, kind of funny. Those expecting a full-fledged comedy will be slightly disappointed, however, as the film is much more dramatic than comedic. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering it’s made by Ryan Fleck and Anna Bowden, the duo behind the ultra-serious indie dramas “Half Nelson” and “Sugar,” but even they don’t seem to know what kind of movie they’re making. One minute a quirky comedy, and the next a bleak drama, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” becomes so stifled by its identity crisis that it fails to make a lasting impression.
Keir Gilchrist stars as Craig, a precocious teen who’s become so stressed out by school and an impending application for a prestigious summer program that he’s starting to contemplate suicide. Worried that he might actually follow through with it, he begs a doctor to admit him to a New York mental hospital, only to realize soon after that he doesn’t belong there. But the psychiatrist (Viola Davis) in charge of the ward tells him that he has to stay for at least five days to undergo observation, and to help get him through his stay, he befriends an eccentric patient named Bobby (Zach Galifiankis) who may not be the best mentor, but has plenty of experience dealing with the pressures of adulthood.
Not to discredit something as serious as mental illness, but if every teenager had suicidal tendencies because they were stressed out about school, psych wards would have a waiting list just to get in. It’s hard to take Craig’s situation seriously when he’s surrounded by people who are clearly in need of more help than him, but then again, that’s kind of the point. Craig doesn’t really want to kill himself, he’s just depressed, and in spending time with the other patients, he learns to be a little easier on himself. It certainly doesn’t help that Keir Gilchrist has the screen presence of a stick of glue, however, and it only makes identifying with Craig that much more difficult. The fact that his most discernible trait is stress-induced vomiting (think Stan Marsh from “South Park”) should tell you a lot about the depth of the character development in the film.
Galifianakis’ character has a much more interesting back story, and it’s a shame that we don’t get to see his story told instead, especially because the actor delivers his most mature and serious performance to date, proving that he can play something other than a buffoon. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast (particularly Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, and Jeremy Davies) is given very little to do, as the film spends more time navigating through the still-photo montages and fantasies inside Craig’s head instead of getting to know the people who actually helped him during his time at the hospital.
It’s as if Fleck and Bowden were trying too hard to balance out the darker moments with bits of quirky comedy, even though it's a much better movie when the subject matter is handled more seriously. They even populate the film with the kind of oddball group of characters that you’d expect to find on a TV sitcom, as if a psych ward was somehow a good place to come of age because of all the wacky people you'd meet. But “One Flew Over the Breakfast Club” this is not, and though “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” certainly had the potential to be something unique, it's perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
It certainly could have been worse, but the Blu-ray release of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” features a pretty lackluster collection of extras, including deleted scenes, outtakes, and a pair of all-too-brief featurettes on the making of the film and its U.S. premiere.