Review: It's Kind of a Funny Story
PLOT: A suicidal teen (Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward for a 5-day evaluation. While there; he bonds with his fellow patients, including another suicidal teen (Emma Roberts) and a clinically depressed man (Zach Galifianakis) who takes the teens under his wing, while battling demons of his own.
REVIEW: ITíS KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is the latest film from director duo Anna Boden, & Ryan Fleck, who previously helmed the remarkably effective drug-addiction drama, HALF-NELSON. That film earned star Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination, and established Fleck & Boden as a pair to watch.
Sadly, I have my doubts that FUNNY STORYís going to have the same type of reception. Itís a well made enough film, and perfectly decent- although way more conventional than I would expect from the same duo that showed Ryan Gosling shooting heroin in a high school bathroom in HALF-NELSON. While the subject matter (suicidal teens) is extremely troubling, and all too relevant, the film is executed in the most inoffensive, light-hearted way imaginable. So much so that you could almost call it JUNO in a psych ward- which is a much more trivial handling than this subject deserves.
However, the film still works to a degree, with it almost having a John Hughes-ian vibe at times. FUNNY STORY really is a teen flick, through-and through, and I think itís a great flick for kids between 13-18, but for adults this is way too cookie cutter. I mean, what else can you say about a film where mid-way thorough, we get a full on musical number where the cast lip-synchs to the Bowie-Queen classic ĎUnder Pressureí?
Make no mistake, FUNNY STORY Is not GIRL INTERRUPTED, and the film it most reminds me of is the Sandra Bullock AA vehicle 28 DAYS, in that it tries to sell a psych ward as a charming place where an unconventional teen can meet a cute girl, gain a wise mentor, and re-emerge a more confident, well-adjusted kid, with all of his problems being resolved by the time the closing credits roll.
But still, ITíS KIND OF A FUNNY STORY isnít awful. One of the few areas this film really scores is with Zach Galifianakis as the troubled mentor figure- Bobby. For most of the film, it seems like Galifianakis is just doing his same old shtick, but his final scenes are remarkably effective, and his bittersweet exit from the film is really sticking with me as I write this- and is the one thing thatís keeping me from giving this an all out pan. It makes me wish that instead of focusing on the teens, Boden & Fleck had done a more truthful film about mental illness centered on Galifianakis' character, as I found his plight all too easy to identify with.
Alas, thatís not to be, and the lionís share of the film is spent on our two charming teens, Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts. For her part, Roberts isnít bad, but Gilchrist is a bit of a disaster. Itís not that he gives a bad performance, but he just completely lacks any kind of weight in the role. After watching ITíS KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, track down an unfairly obscure indie called MANIC, starring a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt as another institutionalized teen, and marvel at how much more depth heís able to convey. In that film, he seems like someone in trouble. Here, Gilchrist seems like heís only checking himself into a psych ward to cut class for a few days. Having Gilchrist in the lead here is like remaking ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOíS NEST with Zac Efron stepping in for Nicholson. He just doesnít have the weight, and someone with a lot more depth was needed.
For me, ITíS KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is a deeply disappointing film, as there really is a great film to be made about teen depression, but this ainít it. But, itís still a pleasant enough film to watch- but that in itself is problematic, as you wouldnít think a film about teen suicide should be called ďpleasantĒ.