While not perfect, It's Kind of a Funny Story is a fun, quirky film with a lot of heart. The story follows depressed teenager Craig, who after a slew of suicidal thoughts decides to check himself into the psychiatric ward at a nearby hospital. The juvenile wing is closed, so he is placed in the adult ward where he meets an eclectic group of patients. Despite realizing that his problems pale in comparison to many of his neighbors, due to regulations, Craig must stay in the ward for five days before he can be released. During this time, Craig becomes good friends with Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and Noelle (Emma Roberts) and begins to slowly find his way again.
Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson), prove again how adept they are working with actors. Every one of the leads shines, particularly Zach Galifianakis, who delivers his best and most nuanced performance to date. Emma Roberts is beautiful in the role of Noelle, a fellow suicidal patient struggling to regain her hold on life. Just as Keira Knightly came up through lighter fare such as Bend it Like Beckham before making her mark with more dramatic material such as Atonement, Emma Roberts is well on her way to moving beyond Hotel For Dogs to more mature roles. Her chemistry with star Keir Gilchrist (Craig) is natural and heartfelt and reminded me of a slightly less eccentric version of Natalie Portman from Garden State.
Another part where the film mostly succeeds is with its supporting cast. While certain patients are used primarily for comic relief and are given little dimension, Boden and Fleck stay away from painting the entire supporting cast with generic traits. Almost all of the characters are believable humans exhibiting a range of ups and downs. They are not simply acting out a gimmick. Galifianakis especially is hilarious in parts and heartbreaking in others. Performances by Viola Davis and the always earthy Jeremy Davies also help the film immensely.
The small flaws in the film are hard to pinpoint, but it is clear that Boden and Fleck had a ton of ideas they want to express about the characters and only a limited time frame to express them in. The result is a film filled with everything from small nuanced quirks (such as freeze frames on characters followed by voiceover) to larger dream and fantasy sequences such as when Craig performs the song "Under Pressure" during a group jam session. The constant use of these quirky devices chopped up a few segments that would have been more engrossing without them. But, to be honest, it's a great thing to criticize a film for too much creativity rather than a lack thereof.
The title It's Kind of Funny Story is a very accurate one, in that the film will make you laugh and feel good, but it doesn't attempt to solve all of its characters' issues in the five days it covers. Instead, the characters come to meaningful yet incomplete conclusions about who they are, which at least get them headed in the right direction. This film will likely be overlooked come award season, but it is still a strong vehicle that is well worth watching.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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