(Review re-posted as It’s Kind of a Funny Story is released in the U.K. from today)
‘It’s Kind of A Funny Story‘ is a pretty apt title. It’s also a kind of two-dimensional romance, a kind of flippant look at life on a mental ward, and a kind of bland, coming-of-age ‘indie’ pic. It also kind of made me want to give Zach Galifianakis a hug, whatever the hell that proves.
The story centres on Craig (Keir Gilchrist) a teenager suffering from depression. The opening scene of his failed suicide attempt immediately inducts us into the dark edge that the film exhibits on and off throughout, but once he calls a suicide hotline and becomes admitted to hospital, the tone begins to change a little.
It’s in a waiting room at the hospital that he meets Bobby (Galifianakis), who takes an interest in Craig’s problems. But it soon turns out that this man is not a doctor, a nurse or any sort of employee of the hospital. He’s actually one of the patients in a mental ward that Craig is about to be committed to for a week.
Naturally Craig is unhappy about this, and tries pretty hard to escape his fate, but to no avail. And at this point Bobby takes him under his wing, mentoring him during his time at the institution. Their relationship is actually one of the best elements of the film, their shared affliction with depression proving to be a kind of unspoken bond that unites them as they overcome their personal demons.
This particular plot line is aided in no small measure by the talents of Galifianakis, who manages to come across as a likeable guy, struggling against depression and some pretty difficult challenges life is throwing at him, rather than falling into the obvious cliches of the kooky crazy guy or the ‘outwardly normal/inwardly a maniac’ guy. His moments of suffering feel genuine every time, and his connection with Craig, though clearly locked in this specific time and place, feels real.
More broadly this, and the character of Craig, show a generally even treatment of depression. Craig’s self-analyses, and often visible stress at certain elements of his life may be a little lightweight as manifestations of depression, but that is always part of the point: he does suffer from depression but never as badly as he thinks.
Sadly this genuine relationship and even presentation of mental illness doesn’t extend beyond the Craig and Bobby dynamic. The other patients are a collection of idiosyncrasies liberally deployed for pure comic effect, and the few among them who get a bigger part of the story end up being part of an even worse coming-of-age story that sees Craig slowly gain enough confidence to solve the seemingly serious mental problems of the others on the ward using the simplest series of personal interventions that totally undermine the careful treatment afforded to the depression of Craig and Bobby.
To top of the collection of plots, there is also a love story between Craig and Noelle, and angsty emo teen who cuts herself. Not only is Noelle a painfully obvious archetype, inserted simply to bring a bunch of musical references into the plot (bolstering the ‘indie’ feel ala ‘Nick and Nora’) and drawing attention to the soundtrack by Broken Social Scene, but her own mental illness is neither explained nor resolved by the end. Presumably we’re meant to think she just got better because of love, or something equally trite.
But perhaps I’m being a little too hard on the film. If it’s taken as a light-hearted comedy that weaves in a few serious issues in along the way, then it’s not too bad. Galifianakis is genuinely fantastic as Bobby, and the mental illness gags, though pretty inconsiderate, are never overtly offensive and are often kind of amusing (sorry, last one).
Nonetheless, if handled properly this film could have been a great dark comedy that dealt with a serious issue faced by millions worldwide. As it is, the film is at best a limp comedy with a textbook ‘indie’ aesthetic, and at worst it’s a poor collection of plots that are neither funny enough nor insightful enough to fully satisfy.
It’s Kind of A Funny Story is released in the U.K. from today.
This article was first posted on January 7, 2011