It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
9Feb/110

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

Andrew INDIFFERENTCasually glancing over the notes I was taking while watching It's Kind of a Funny Story (IKoaFS) I noticed a trend that I've compiled into the following observation; with five days and a jangly indy-pop soundtrack you too can cure anyone of their crippling depression or mental illness.  It's a wonder that I haven't opened a mental hospital for overprivileged white folks because I could make a mint following that simple formula.

This latest stab at that lesson comes to us from the writer/director team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.  They're a particularly talented duo previously known for helping Ryan Gosling score an Oscar nomination for his performance in Half-Nelson and demystifying the allure of baseball in Sugar.  Both of those films take the luster and mythic underpinnings off of their subject focus (the noble teacher and the foreign baseball player respectively) that it's a bit curious they left all the quirky bits on this film.

IKoaFS is adapted from the novel of the same name written by Ned Vizzini.  The film opens with Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) thinking about suicide and then deciding to check himself in to the local hospital.  He's admitted into the psychiatric floor and quickly realizes that he's not going to be able to get back to his other responsibilities anytime soon.  Craig has a chance encounter with Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) an older man who has a certain sense of stature amongst the other residents but is clearly angry and depressed himself.

The majority of the action takes place within the confines of the hospital and relies on Craig's imagination anytime that the story needs to branch out a bit further.  In one particularly nice moment Craig is asked to remember a time that made him happy and the style switches from the crisp and controlled lighting and camerawork of the mental hospital to a hazy hand camera that lovingly recalls a day of bike riding and relaxing.  Sadly, there are too few moments like that.

I enjoyed Craig and Bobby's friendship but wish that there were something interesting the film could have done with it.

Part of the reason that there are so few notable moments is that Craig is simply not that involving a person.  The reason for his depression is that he feels overstressed about his future and his family, despite Craig's descriptions, never seems anything less than loving and supportive of him.  Not exactly the most sympathetic way to build a main character and Keir Gilchrist's performance doesn't do much to elevate him above that status.  He speaks in roughly the same pitch and tone throughout the entire film in a manner positioned somewhere between excited to find a dollar on the ground and sad that he wasted his last 25 cents on a phone call - not terribly interesting.

What's worse is that the main threads involving Craig run from the disinteresting to the outright stupid.  Aside from his overemphasized horrible family life he also has some issues with his best friends girlfriend.  This complicates Craig's newfound and perfectly timed relationship with the infinitely more interesting Noelle (Emma Roberts).  There is a particularly cringe worthy moment where Craig proclaims some affection for the wrong person at the perfectly wrong time.  All perfect not because it makes sense for the characters or story but because there needs to be some kind of half-baked conflict in a story that runs far too smoothly.

It's a shame that IKoaFS didn't build on the supporting cast more because the characters and the actors portraying them are significantly interesting, so much more so that I was angry any time we pulled away from some of them to follow Craig.  Zach Galifianakis is superb in the role of Bobby and hints at a level of rage and sadness whose reason are only vaguely hinted at in a number of jarring and intriguing scenes.  Emma Roberts also has a plum role as Noelle and dealt with the problem of her beauty by cutting her arms and face.  Again, an interesting history hinted at and well played by Roberts, but even then only vaguely developed as another person that Craig is able to help by muttering while nice songs play overhead.

If the list of things that were cut included "more Jeremy Davies" then I may get a little angry.

Then there's the matter of Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis who have the roles of a staff member and doctor respectively.  Both of them are wholly incapable of turning in bad performances and Davies is able to hint at a wealth of compassion with the barely two minutes he has to speak.  Davis also continues to show up in supporting roles that are absolutely perfect for her and finds the maximum amount of dramatic impact in the minimum amount of time.

In fact, I could go on and on about each of the supporting cast members but the movie isn't really about them, nor is it about facing the realities of mental illness.  I can't fault the movie too much for following such a reliable trend but it's depressing that it didn't try harder with such great material just waiting to be used.  IKoaFS is in the same vein as One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest and Girl, Interrupted.  They all treat mental illness as a way of entertaining the audience and teach us that life is worth living if we follow it in a prescribed path of spontaneity and adventure.

Really IKoaFS is about privilege and how, gosh darn it, it just really gets us down sometimes.  If it weren't so magnificently acted I could have very easily hated this movie.  Instead I was free to just stare at the screen with a too often blank expression wondering how anyone could have imagined that Craig was worth filming a story about.  A depressing thought, perhaps, but not all stories are worth storing for posterity.

It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
Starring Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifanakis and Emma Roberts.

Posted by Andrew

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