It’s Kind of a Funny Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about as middle-of-the-road as its unassuming title might lead you to believe. It’s kind of sweet, kind of inoffensive and on occasion even kind of entertaining, but it’s not the kind of film likely to inspire much passion.

With the obligatory play on the film’s title out of the way, a quick run-down of the premise seems appropriate. A semi-suicidally depressed teen (Keir Gilchrist) heads to the emergency ward of his local hospital in the hopes of finding an instant cure-all for all of his teen problems. When he insists that he’s a danger to himself, the doctor signs him up for 5 days of mandatory evaluation in the hospital’s psych ward. Essentially, it’s Can’t Hardly Wait to Fly Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – a movie where teen coming-of-age banality interacts with generic nut-house drama in a paint-by-numbers patchwork.

If that reductionist description doesn’t scare you off, there are, in fact, reasons to recommend It’s Kind of a Funny Story. At least, there’s one main reason – a surprisingly nuanced turn from Zach Galifianakis as one of the ward’s more popular residents, who takes Gilchrist under his wing. Although it still coasts on a few standard Galifianakisms, the hirsute actor’s ticks are all in service of a fully realized character, and the hints of sadness and bursts of rage are delivered with a low-key naturalism that suggests the comic has more to offer than semi-dadaist fart jokes.

It’s a marvellous performance, but it feels wasted in a film that otherwise takes the easiest route to plot resolutions and warmed hearts. Over the course of five incredibly productive days, Gilchrist manages to meet a genuinely manic pixie dream girl and solve all of his problems, along with a few other people’s just for kicks. The trouble is, most of those other characters feel less like people and more like either learning opportunities for Gilchrist, or one-note quirks to add to the ambiance. It’s admirable the way the film avoids stigmatizing those suffering from mental illness, but oversimplification doesn’t seem like that much better of an option.

The film’s underlying messages – that depression is a real issue and that teens are often more talented than they think – are worth promoting, but It’s Kind of a Funny Story is lacking the ring of truth to really sell it. Self-aware references to the too-neat conclusion and the sappy, inevitable resolution of the romantic subplot aim to deflect from the movie’s troubles, but really just draw attention to them. If the film spent less time on its whimsical narration, glammed-up musical interludes and appropriation from its more esteemed predecessors (in the most blatant cribbing, Cuckoo’s Nest’s stoic Native American becomes a reclusive Egyptian) and more time expanding on its strengths, it might’ve been able to avoid the qualifiers. As it is, it’s kind of skippable.

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