It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
It shouldn’t be a surprise, one could suppose, there’s hardly anything hilarious about mental institutions. Still, with a title such as It’s Kind of a Funny Story, one should expect something opposite from the horrifying scenes of unkempt rooms, psycho art class students and unhappy, griping nurses shown in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interrupted.
To be fair, It’s Kind of a Funny Story does, for the most part, steer clear of that. You can watch it and keep your lunch down.
This movie aims for a few laughs, it gets just that—a few laughs but only a few.
While other mental ward films may endeavor for drama and horror, this one sets its sights for heart and humor.
On the first count, Funny Story completely nails it: If you’re looking for a film that pulls at your heartstrings, this film is what you are looking for, but the jokes and one-liners used throughout the film often miss their target.
Funny Story opens up with protagonist Craig (Keir Gilchrist, TV’s United States of Tara), a 16-year-old New Yorker enrolled in a school for gifted teens, seeing himself take the plunge off a bridge. Realizing he’s facing tough issues, Craig checks himself into a local hospital early one Sunday morning to seek help.
The doctor he sees recommends him to the mental patient ward, where meets Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover), a fellow mental patient, who feels protective of Craig right from the start.
He also meets Noelle (Emma Roberts, Valentine’s Day), a girl his age with visible scars on her cheek and wrists. Craig and Noelle take a shine to each other, and, at her invite, he spends an evening hanging with her in the mental ward—as best a date can be while committed.
Throughout the film, his underlying issues flesh out: His father (comedian Jim Gaffigan) works too much to care about the family, while his mother (Lauren Graham, TV’s Gilmore Girls) is, in Craig’s words, “very fragile.”
In addition, Craig’s only male friend, Aaron (Thomas Mann), is an overachiever who makes him jealous and treats him badly, while Aaron’s girlfriend, Nia (Zoe Kravitz), is the object of Craig’s affection who never returns the feelings.
A major stressor at that moment is Craig’s summer school application—for a program that he secretly does not want to get into, but is aiming for anyway so he can impress those around him.
Despite holding a flame for Nia, Craig slowly begins to build a relationship with Noelle. This courtship does a fine job of illustrating the film’s paradox: It’s delightful, but hardly hilarious.
At one point, their institutional romance takes them to a patients’ music workshop, where they are two of several patients playing a relatively riveting rendition of the Queen-David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure.”
Craig, tapped to sing lead vocals, sees himself disappear into a fantasy world where he and Noelle—rocking a guitar—duet together. This scene is, in a word, cute, and will bring a smile to your face, but can’t necessarily be deemed laugh-out-loud.
This trend is further blazed by the behavior of their fellow patients: Craig’s roommate, an Egyptian named Muqtada (Bernard White), refuses to come out of bed until Craig coaxes him. He also has frequent encounters with Solomon, an alleged “former Jewish acid head” who wears a yarmulke and complains constantly of his sensitive hearing.
With these patients, it’s difficult to tell whether to snicker at them or feel sorry for them. The best you can do is to try and do both.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story takes a skillful look at teenage depression, and, on an emotional level, it will be hard for someone to leave this movie feeling less than moved.
Still, while the film makes the heart grow fonder, it also makes the laughing muscles grow bored. So, even with all of its compassion, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is, well, only kind of funny.
I give it: three stars
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