It’s Kind of a Funny Story

It's Kind of a Funny Story

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I’ve never been clinically depressed, nor have I been committed to a mental ward. Several people quite close to me, though, cannot say the same. It was those people I was thinking of the entire time I watched Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck‘s film It’s Kind of a Funny Story, based on the Ned Vizzini novel of the same name. I’ve talked with each of my friends a little about their experiences with depression before, but as one might imagine it’s a touchy subject, and most people don’t want to dwell on it.

Funny Story does just that, though. Set mostly in a mental ward in a New York City hospital, the film follows suicidal teenager Craig (Keir Gilchrist) as he works through the problems that continue to compound themselves in his life: an overbearing and career-driven father, a jerk of a best friend, and no girlfriend to speak of for starters. In his time at the hospital, Craig befriends several of the other patients, notably Bobby (Zack Galifianakis), a curious and funny guy who won’t say why he’s been committed, and Noelle (Emma Roberts), a cutter looking to put her past behind her. In their time together, they teach each other a thing or two about getting by, and maybe figure out why it is that life’s worth living after all.

While I’m not really qualified to talk about this film’s treatment of mental illness, I believe I am qualified to talk about its outlook on life. And frankly, I like it a lot. There’re at least a couple scenes in the film which clearly try to impart a lesson to its viewers. In one of them, Bobby quotes a Bob Dylan song: “he not busy being born is busy dying.” In another, Craig confesses to his doctor (this is paraphrased) “there are lots of people struggling out there just to live, and I realized that me being so worked up over my own problems just makes me kind of self-important.”

Now, I don’t think the movie’s saying there’s no such thing as real problems to be upset about; quite the contrary, I found the film’s treatment of the issues of its various patients quite delicate. What the film is saying, I believe, is that it’s important to keep everything in perspective–if you’ve got the ability to seize some kind of control in your life, you should try to take that opportunity and make the most of it, because not everyone is so lucky. That’s a philosophy I hold very dear, and it alone was enough to make this movie a winner in my book.

But let’s talk a little less personally for a minute, shall we? I thought the entire cast did a tremendous job here. I haven’t seen Kier Gilchrist before but I’d like to see him again; I found his performance of Craig quite nuanced and relatable. Ditto Emma Roberts, who juggles a mixed bag of emotions throughout the film and doesn’t drop any of them. Of course to many the star here is going to be Zack Galifianakis, who turns in an excellent (if unusually quiet) performance as Bobby. I think Galifianakis is one of the funniest actors working today, and I was totally disappointed by his role in Dinner for Schmucks, but It’s Kind of a Funny Story brings him back to greatness in my eyes (incidentally, I’m also quite looking forward to Due Date, which should find him in more traditional comedy territory).

I also have to give props to the film’s soundtrack. It’s scored by indie band extraordinaire Broken Social Scene and beyond that contains a number of other great songs. The Queen/David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure” is no stranger to the screen (recently World’s Greatest Dad has used it to nice effect) but, it being one of my favorite songs of all time, I was happy to hear it again, especially since the sequence in which it plays is a lot of fun. On the more obscure side, a pretty emotional moment in the film incorporates Black Sabbath’s “It’s Alright,” a beautiful and decidedly un-Sabbathy song which I first came to via an Axl Rose cover. Being the music nerd that I am, a killer soundtrack like this will always score extra points.

I guess beyond that I don’t have much to say. I realize that most of my reasons for liking this movie are really personal, but I think that’s okay. Art exists to evoke an emotional response in its viewers, after all. General critical reception seems to suggest that It’s Kind of a Funny Story has missed its mark with a fair number of them. It worked on me, though–this is a film I look forward to viewing again, and maybe this time one of my friends more experienced with the subject matter can join me.

tags: anna boden, ryan fleck, zack galifianakis

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