It’s Kind of a Funny Story | Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck | Written by Boden and Fleck based on the novel by Ned Vizzini | with Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Zoë Kravitz, and Zach Galifianakis | Focus Features | 101 minutes
INTERVIEW:Zach Galifianakis. By Peter Keough.
The moment comes at around the midway mark of Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck's third narrative feature. Craig (Keir Gilchrist), a bright but depressed teenager (is there any other kind?) who's voluntarily checked himself into a hospital psych ward, imagines himself at the center of a musical-production number, an exotically overproduced rendition of the Queen/David Bowie collaboration "Under Pressure." It's three minutes of screen time in which the introverted 15-year-old both opens up and glams it up, lip-synching to Freddie Mercury while Zach Galifianakis — sporting a cape during this sequence, the second time he's done so in his past two films — backs him up by pantomiming his way through the Bowie lines.
It's unlike anything the filmmaking pair, who triumphed with a naturalistic style in 2006's Half Nelson and 2008's Sugar, have attempted before. Given the setting and the uptight protagonist, it's a little too on-the-nose. But it also feels kind of right for this movie. A sweet-natured One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest for the teen set, It's Kind of a Funny Story is based on a young-adult novel, so clichés can be expected. I don't blame Boden and Fleck for adhering to Ned Vizzini's popular book. Okay, I'm ever so slightly disappointed that they haven't made the movie I was expecting. But, hey, I didn't expect I'd enjoy Galifianakis this much again after his disappointing turn in this year's Dinner for Schmucks — not to mention his straight-man role to secret-agent rodents in last year's G-Force. Had his hilarious breakthrough in The Hangover been produced from too big of a comic binge, too soon?
Not at all. This funnyman can still mine laughs, even though his role here as Bobby — a manchild under psychiatric observation after his sixth suicide attempt — calls for him to dial things back as he settles into the role of wizened sage (the bulk of his advice is borrowed from Bob Dylan's lyrics) to Craig, a student at Manhattan's exclusive Pre-Professional High School who's been admitted for having suicidal thoughts after unwisely deciding to go off his prescription of Zoloft.
The pressure of performance anxiety has taken its toll on Craig: he projectile-vomits at the thought of disappointing his dad (Jim Gaffigan) and quietly pines after his best friend's girl, Nia (Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny and Lisa Bonet). Then he meets Noelle (Emma Roberts, Julia's niece), a cute, lanky girl prone to cutting herself. Because the hospital is undergoing renovations, the two have been placed with adults, and that provides the narrative its cuckoo's nest of eccentric characters.
Craig packs quite a lot into the five days that follow, from recognizing his true talent as a visual artist (I'll even grant him his imagined rock-star status) to curing his dyspepsia, solving other patients' problems, and, yes, even finding a girlfriend. Imagine what he could accomplish if he weren't so depressed! Sure, it's wish fulfillment of a fantastic order, and the ward's doctors and administrators (the almost criminally underutilized Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis in a mini-Solaris reunion) would cower before Nurse Ratched, but if you don't buckle under the pressure of the movie's most potentially offputting sequence, you won't need a frontal lobotomy to enjoy the simple and even kind of funny pleasures to be found here.