If you’ve ever thought what was really missing from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a teen’s perspective then It’s Kind of a Funny Story might be what you’re looking for. Although not in the same class with Cuckoo’s Nest, this film adapted from Ned Vizzini’s novel of the same name by writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck may speak to the current generation dealing with the stress and pressure parents and society seem to heap on them with from birth.
Depressed, stressed-out, and contemplating suicide, early on a Sunday morning troubled teen Craig (Keir Gilchrist) decides to check himself into a psychic ward for observation – a decision he almost immediately regrets. For five days, Craig spends time in the loony bin learning about himself and the other patients.
The residents of the ward are about what you’d expect. Those Craig gets to learn best are the funny yet troubled Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), the lovely but suicidal Noelle (Emma Roberts), and his roommate Muqtada (Bernard White) who refuses to leave his bed, let alone the room.
Viola Davis also has a nice turn as the psychiatrist given the task to try and discover what prompted this youngster in a good school, a bright future, and a loving family (Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Dana DeVestern) to feel the urge to end his life.
Gilchrist is well-cast as the confused Craig, who internally funnels all his stress over a summer school project, college, his crush on his best friend’s girl (Zoë Kravitz) and complete lack of knowing what to do with his life. Although Galifianakis provides most of the film’s best comedic moments, and Roberts does well as the strong yet fragile love interest, this is Gilchrist’s film to carry, and he succeeds – when the script stays out of his way.
The script still feels rather rough in spots, almost rushed; it could have used at least one more rewrite (preferably two). The film isn’t always able to balance the serious issues of some very damaged individuals with its need for to entertain and lighten scenes with humor.
Some of these moments work quite well, such as Craig’s flashback to drawing as a child or his fantasy of Nia (Kravitz) in a tub, but some are overused (sneaking around the hospital) or aren’t nearly as funny as the writers thought they were (Craig’s karaoke fantasy and his projectile vomiting).
Far too often a script that wants to be edgy gives into the obvious and ridiculous (not to mention insulting to the audience). Craig won’t be able to leave until he’s learned about himself, but is it really necessary for him to change the lives of not only all of his fellow inmates but make his school friends better people as well? Nothing is really in doubt here, and when the movie teases more complex issues (such as Bobby’s situation), we know it’s an empty gesture that won’t lead anywhere except happily ever after.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story isn’t exactly groundbreaking (or even that original), but it does add it’s own take on a well-tread subject. I’d have preferred if the film either chosen to up the absurdity or stay with a more realistic drama. The merging of the two doesn’t always work, but the strength of the performances makes it a marginal recommendation – maybe more so for teens facing similar issues.