It's Kind of a Funny Story assembles a multi-talented cast to adapt a celebrated literary work about a teenage boy surrounded by colorful individuals. Walking into the movie, it was hard not to be reminded of Ryan Murphy's disastrous interpretation of the best selling memoir, Running With Scissors. That film treated mental illness in a demented sitcom fashion and resulted in one of the most annoying ordeals I've ever had at the movies. This is not the same case with It's Kind of a Funny Story, however. Where Running With Scissors was loud and cruel here is a film that finds inspiration and tenderness in its bleak subject matter.
Keir Gilchrist of United States of Tara gives a breakthrough performance as Craig, a 16-year-old boy with supportive parents and plenty of friends. Yet, he still has suicidal thoughts about jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Fearing that he may actually jump off that bridge, Craig checks himself into a mental hospital. Shortly after meeting some of the disturbed patients, including his middle-aged roommate who refuses to get out of bed, Craig begins to think that he doesn't belong there. But the staff physiatrist, played by Viola Davis, convinces him to stay the mandatory five-day period.
An eccentric, emotionally concealed patient named Bobby, played by Zach Galifianakis, takes Craig under his wing and shows him the ropes. After years of doing work as a character actor Galifinakis established himself as a great comedic player in The Hangover. While Galifinakis brings his own strange breed of comedic timing to the role of Bobby, he also takes a semi-dramatic turn along the lines of Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction. The movie depicts Bobby as a bottle-up, troubled human being who is likely to be struggling with his inner demons for a long time. It's a great performance from Galifinakis, which leads me to believe that he might be able to pull off a wholly dramatic role.
Julia Roberts' niece, Emma Roberts, gives the best performance of her young career as Noelle, a fellow 16-year-old patient who catches Craig's eye. Not much is revealed about why Noelle is in this mental hospital other than some scars on her wrists. A part of me would have liked to know more about her seemingly dark background. The relationship that blossoms between her and Craig is so irresistible though that this flaw is easy to neglect.
The directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have made a smart film that realizes suicidal young adults are not only the ones that come from broken homes. Sometimes the kids suffering from depression are simply under pressure by school and family. There's especially much truth to Craig's workaholic father, played by Jim Gaffigan, and clingy mother, played by Lauren Graham. These are not abusive parents, but understanding people who love their son and just want to see him happy. Their only misgiving is that maybe they push Craig a little too hard to succeed. The staff at the hospital is not dim-witted and wants to help Craig. Even Craig's friends understand where he's coming from, opening up to him about their own stress at school.
Like Easy A, It's Kind of a Funny Story is another coming of age tale that works due to the sincerity of its characters. Easy A though, was really more in the tradition of '80s high school movies. While It's Kind of a Funny Story has an occasional John Hughes motif, such as a musical number, this is an all together original film that goes deeper than typical teenage dramas. Although the movie isn't always as gritty as its topic, I had difficulty not smiling all the way through this funny and clever winner of a movie.