Man, sometimes a title just hits the nail right on the head. You can apply a lot of “kind of”to It’s Kind Of A Funny Story. It’s “kind of” a good movie, it “kind of” makes sense and yes, it’s “kind of” funny. At the risk of belaboring the joke, I’d also say it’s “kind of” dismissive of kids who have legitimate chemical imbalances and depression issues that require a great deal of time and attention to overcome. Perhaps that’s reading into things too far though.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story follows 16-year old Craig right as he decides that instead of tossing himself off of a bridge, he’s going to check himself into a mental ward. Right away we’re met with the self-aware narration that is so popular these days in comedies- the kind that need only mention an anecdote or an idea to immediately causes a whip-pan and a quick skit. I don’t mean to sound immediately down on the film, it’s just that the tone and style feels very much like an episode of Scrubs writ-large, one in which Zach Galafianakis stars this week as the compassionate crazy guy who’s not really crazy. In any event, the conflict comes when Craig discovers the teen ward has been closed for renovations and merged with the adult ward (even though I’m pretty sure Craig and the cute Noelle are the only teens ever seen in the film). This combined with the fact that Craig is now obligated to stay for observation for at least a week means he’s getting much more than he expected from his impulsive self-commitment.
Nearly every performance in the film is charming and sweet including Zach Galafianakis, who continues to prove his range extends far beyond the mildly retarded man-child character most know him for. Keir Gilchrist carries the film without lighting up the screen, though he’s not given a ton of room by the script to stretch his legs either. The rest of the cast –Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, JIm Gaffigan, Lauren Graham– are all uniformly good. Ultimately what keep It’s Kind Of A Funny Story from being anything special is that it takes a whole movie to say little more than “Be yourself, look at the world around you and live your life.” These aren’t bad themes of course, but with a central character that is supposedly suicidal (and whether it’s the script or Gilchrist or both, this is never ever convincing) there should be a little more meat on the bones. Craig’s stress and problems are supposed to be representative of those any adolescent would face, but instead of being representative, they simply are the stresses that any adolescent would face. Craig is stressed about an application for a scholastic program and about a girl that he’s in love with, but the idea that he’s going to jump off a bridge over them is silly when we see no hint of hidden darkness in Craig.
The film breaks no barriers in the mental ward “genre,” but it doesn’t feel overly cliche either. Mostly it moves along introducing us to the various quirky patients (a few of which have delightfully punchline-worthy ticks) and the routines of the ward. Naturally, Zach Galafianakis is the warm center of everything- though you’ll never believe he’s crazy for one second. The rational crazy-guy would be nothing new, but again, there’s not even really a hint of legitimate darkness or mental illness to Galafianakis. This is thematically paid-off towards the end of the film to some respect, but not in a way that makes much sense. Once again I find it difficult to decide if I should blame this mostly on Galafianakis or the screenplay, but my instinct is that it is fundamentally a flaw in the script. In terms of being entertaining and delivering a fair amount of “reach out and grab life” schmaltz in a fun way, Zach excels. He’s not up to his usual tricks here, as the comedy is all low-key and markedly “light.”
Most of Craig’s story is spent trying to juggle his experiences in the ward with his attempts to keep where he is at a secret from his friend, as well as his interest in the only other teen in the ward, who happens to be a cute, funny, interesting girl that is romantically inclined towards him right away. Almost everything plays out exactly how you would expect it to- Craig learns a little bit from all of the patients, unlocks an artistic side he was previously unaware of, and confronts all of his adolescent concerns head on by the end of the film. The message to stressed out adolescents seems to be “Breath. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear and stress” which is all well and good, but it’s not a particularly impacting or specific message for a story that is exploiting the idea of teen depression and suicidal tendencies. I’m not offended by the film per se, but there’s an awful lot of overwrought set-up and heavy subjects exploited for it all to be in service of a film that is merely cute.
There’s nothing wrong with heartwarming film, or telling a story with the popular 500 Days of Summer-style quirkiness, but there should be some lasting impression that our character has learned something about managing his life. Without even a trace of legitimate instability in any of the main characters it’s tough to take much from this story, even if it is a lightly entertaining trip through the nuthouse.