It's Kind of a Funny Story

Some folks take on way too many projects, jobs and tasks for their own good.  For instance, my wife has a full-time job, records books for the blind and dyslexic, volunteers at hospice, sings with two community choruses and is the chapter mother for her college fraternity.  I’m not sure how she does it all and, sometimes, she doesn’t either; however, she never lets her responsibilities overwhelm her.  While the pressures and frustrations of being a teenager may pale in comparison to being an adult, it doesn’t feel that way to the teen.  When we grow up, we forget just how much pain and aggravation we dealt with in those seemingly carefree years and how much pressure we faced as we stared at adulthood barreling towards us.  Most of us manage to struggle through that time unscathed, but some can’t deal with the stress and consider the ultimate escape.  That’s the subject of this week’s movie “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”

Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is a fairly typical 16-year-old with all the problems and issues that come along with hormones and facial hair.  He’s in a prestigious and competitive high school that has a reputation of accepting only the best of the best, but Craig feels like he doesn’t belong.  His father George (Jim Gaffigan) is a successful businessman who wants Craig to follow in his footsteps.  His mother Lynn (Lauren Graham) just wants Craig to be happy, but that’s difficult when Nia (Zoe Kravitz) the girl he’s in love with is dating his best friend Aaron (Thomas Mann), when an application for a summer semester program that would look great on his college application remains unfilled out with just a week before it’s due, when every stressful thought causes him to throw up, when the world’s going to Hell in a hand basket and he can’t do anything to stop it!  Craig is seriously considering jumping off a nearby bridge, but goes to the emergency room instead.  After begging the ER doctor to help him, Craig is sent to the psychiatric ward for a minimum five day observation.  There he meets Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) the ringleader of a small group of patients.  Bobby says he’s in the ward on vacation, but Craig can tell there’s more to Bobby’s stay than just rest.  Craig also meets Noelle (Emma Roberts), a girl near his age who cuts herself.  Craig and Noelle begin a tentative relationship while she tries to figure out if she can trust him.  While told by nearly everyone to lighten up, the root of Craig’s problems is he can’t.  Can he learn how while sharing a room with Muqtada (Bernard White), a man who rarely speaks and never leaves his room, and living with the rest of the paranoid, neurotic, delusional patients on the third floor?

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is a pretty good movie.  It has a sweetness and heart that makes you root for the various misfits that populate the psych ward.  Keir Gilchrist is a very good young actor.  I never doubted his performance for one moment.  The hurt and desperation in his face as he tries to figure out what’s wrong with him and how to deal with it will tug at your tear ducts.  And while Zach Galifianakis is playing essentially the same reckless, take-no-prisoners type character as in “The Hangover” and “Dinner for Schmucks,” it is also probably his best performance to date.  Bobby has an undercurrent of danger and insanity that shows through even during the quieter and happier parts of the film.  When it bursts forth, Galifianakis transforms from the messy funnyman to full-on psycho in the blink of an eye.  Perhaps this role will give him the opportunity to spread his wings and try something different and more challenging.  Maybe he’ll get to play a perfectly normal guy in a future part.  That would be something to see.

While the leads and the supporting characters are all very good, the film has some very basic flaws.  First, the plot, while a combination of romantic comedy and fish-out-of-water story, is not much different than a thousand other films.  The story arc is familiar and predictable and I knew what would be happening and when the second I sat down with my overpriced diet cola and hotdog.  If you’ve seen more than 10 movies in your life, you could probably tick off the required plot points as well.  And while I’m not a mental health expert, the other patients on the psych ward were “loony bin” clichés.  You have the catatonic patient who is able to stand and hold various objects while still as a statue.  There was the childlike patient, the various levels of paranoid patients, the delusional patients and on and on.  While an accurate portrayal of a hospital psychiatric ward might prove too depressing and wouldn’t fit the needs of the story, it would do more good than harm to show a realistic representation of the mentally ill than we get here.  Finally, the ending is far too easy and sweet.  While we want all these people we’ve gotten to know over the course of 90 minutes to go on and lead happy, productive lives, it seems unlikely.  The three main players, Craig, Bobby and Noelle, seem destined for picket-fence-and-rainbows happiness; yet, my vision of at least one of their futures doesn’t end well.  The film cops out and makes it all nice and neat, but we know it doesn’t usually go that way.  It would have been brave and honest of the filmmakers to give us a bracing bit of reality to go along with the sweetness.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material and language.  Suicide is a main theme of the first 20 minutes of the film.  The sexual content is brief and there’s no nudity.  We see a kid smoking a joint one time as well as a bribe paid to a security guard in the form of pills.  Foul language is widely scattered, but the “F-bomb” is dropped a few times.

Despite some significant flaws, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is an affecting, warm film that is filled with likable characters.  If you allow yourself to be taken up into the fluffy lightness of the film, you’ll find it a very enjoyable experience.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” gets four guitars out of five.

Four new films run the gamut from kids fare to political intrigue this week.  Vote on the film you’d like me to see and review next.

Due Date—Robert Downey Jr. is forced to hitch a ride with Zach Galifianakis on a cross-country road trip that goes wrong at every possible turn.

Fair Game—Naomi Watts stars in the story of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA officer whose status was leaked to the public by the White House.

For Colored Girls— Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine and Thandie Newton star in director Tyler Perry's adaptation of the poetic, award-winning play.

Megamind—Will Ferrell is the voice of Megamind, the most brilliant (and least successful) supervillian the world has ever known.

127 Hours—James Franco stars in the true story of a hiker and his struggle to survive when he becomes trapped under a boulder.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.

Release dates and subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Have a question?  Send it to stanthemovieman@att.net.  You can also follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.