Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.” –Hugh

Getting used to Funny Story took a while for me. To start
with, this film takes place in a hospital mental ward that’s seemingly
run by the patients. Doctors, nurses and orderlies are extremely scarce
and security is appallingly lax. We’re told that the teen mental
patients have been moved to the adult ward while the teen ward is under
renovation, though overcrowding seems to be a non-issue. In fact, with
one exception, the patients in the teen ward are completely absent from
the movie. Perhaps most notably, the severity of such mental illnesses
as schizophrenia and suicidal depression is watered down for the sake of
keeping with the film’s lighthearted and comedic tone.

It’s all a lot of disbelief to suspend. The very concept of a comedy
set in a mental ward may be enough to turn quite a few people away.
Fortunately, those who are able to accept the movie on its own terms
will be pleasantly rewarded for the effort.

This is the story of Craig, who checks himself into a mental ward
because he feels depressed and suicidal. Though he does have a history
of Zoloft use, a socially awkward disposition and some rather strange
physical symptoms (two words: Stress vomiting), it’s clear from the
start that suicidal depression isn’t really the problem. The truth is
something much simpler and yet more complex: He’s a teenager.

Craig is sixteen, with the standard anxieties of girl troubles,
jealousy of close friends and family issues. He’s also in a prestigious
school, surrounded by peers who are all smarter and more successful than
he is (or so he thinks). Basically put, he’s at just the time and place
in his life when he thinks that if he doesn’t succeed at certain tests
and applications, then his life is ruined. To him, the future is either
in the White House or in poverty, with absolutely no middle ground. He
has no idea of what life after high school is really like, nor does he
realize how well-off and smart he is. He needs perspective, he needs
self-confidence and he finds both by spending a few days with people who
aren’t simply confused and uncertain, but legitimately poor, crazy and
worse off than Craig ever was.

The movie’s central conceit is that feeling depressed about life
isn’t necessarily something to be treated. It isn’t even a bad thing or
something to be ashamed of. It could be just part of life. We’ve gotten
so caught up in medications and mental diagnoses that maybe we’ve
forgotten how being a little bit afraid about the future is simply part
of being human. Moreover, failing to achieve the arbitrary goals set by
others is a lousy reason to feel inferior. To quote another movie
that dealt with quite similar themes,”do what you love, and fuck the

Given this premise, it should come as no surprise that the movie does
have its shallow traits. No less than twice in this film, Craig swears
up and down that he can’t do something only to totally master it in one
try, so the film obviously has a transparent “wish fulfillment” aspect.
Also, Craig’s development can get quite predictable and formulaic at
times. On the other hand, this movie does have a lot of heart and the
characters are all treated with respect. Writer/Directors Anna Boden and
Ryan Fleck really do make an effort to show the trauma of genuine
mental illness while simultaneously keeping the film light and they do a
decent job, all told.

The cast is uniformly outstanding, with surprising amounts of talent
packed into the smallest roles. Keir Gilchrist wonderfully sells all of
Craig’s many internal conflicts, delivering a character who’s uncertain
in all things. Craig’s development is the story’s soul and Gilchrist
makes it work. He also shows great chemistry with Emma Roberts, who
turns in a staggering performance as Craig’s love interest. Noelle is
beautiful, but not Hollywood-level hot. Her charm and wit is abundant,
but tempered with shyness and no small amount of venom. Also, I don’t
know whose idea it was to make cut marks part of her makeup, but that
was a brilliant touch. Those marks bring a lot of past trauma to the
character and Roberts weaves it into her act like a pro.

Further props to Zach Galifianakis. He found a lot of well-earned
success with The Hangover, though I’ve found it a shame that he’s
pretty much been playing Alan Garner ever since. Not here. In this
movie, Galifianakis takes the unpredictability, para-logical
sensibilities and enormous heart of Alan, then parlays them into Craig’s
enigmatic, intelligent and heavily nuanced mentor. Bobby is a character
who’s tragic and comedic in equal measure and I found it amazing to
watch Galifianakis play that so effectively. I’ll grant that Bobby does
come off as a bit too sane to be in a mental ward, but his exact
condition is never fully disclosed. It’s left open to interpretation
just what Bobby is doing there or how bad his condition is — if any —
and I’m glad to say that Galifianakis sells that.

Aasif Mandvi appears briefly as a doctor and he makes the most of
what screen time he’s got. The Daily Show reporter isn’t given anything
overly funny to do, and I know I’ve said that’s a
huge faux pas
, but his character here is very intelligent and
sympathetic. I found that to be very refreshing, mostly because it runs
totally counter to his act with Jon Stewart. Another surprise actor to
be found here is Zoe Kravitz, the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa
Bonet. She’s very beautiful and she does a fine job as Craig’s
unattainable crush (every guy has one). There are so many scenes in
which Nia is out of Craig’s league and within his reach all at once and
Kravitz does a great job of getting that contradiction to make sense.

At least a third of this movie is seen through Craig’s interpretation
of reality, and it’s all to wonderful effect. There’s one scene in
which Craig takes a call from Nia, picturing her in a giant luxurious
bubble bath, since why not? The film also has a few flashbacks with
several embellishments from our protagonist, most notably while
five-year-old Craig is being played by sixteen-year-old Craig.

Unfortunately, the pacing is bogged down a few times. This is
particularly obvious during the last fifteen minutes, in which the movie
just ends and ends and ends. My favorite example, however, is the scene
in which Craig leads the other patients in a loose rendition of
Queen’s “Under Pressure,” as part of a creative musical therapy
session. The scene transitions to Craig’s imagination, depicting him
and his friends as neon-colored, overdressed rock stars in heavy
makeup. The scene is hilarious, but it serves no purpose to the story
and effectively grinds the movie to a halt for a few minutes.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story requires a lot of concessions from
its audience. It takes a lot of willful ignorance to get past the
implausibilities, the pacing issues and the notion of using mentally
damaged people as comic material. Personally, when I was finally able to
adjust to this movie’s sensibilities, I found it very enjoyable. This
is a solid — if somewhat predictable — coming of age story, told with
heart and humor aplenty. The actors and dialogue make every character
sympathetic and the visuals greatly add to the comedy. It’s an
all-around solidly made film, well worth checking out.