Sweet, innocent, touching, sad, funny, quirky, and lots of other stuff sums up "It's Kind of a Funny Story". The film does not go overboard on any of these things, but it keeps it very real – in an odd kind of way. No one is too sad or to happy. It is very real despite the fact that most of it largely happens on a psych ward.
16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist – from television's The United States of Tara) is depressed and has suicidal thoughts. Not really wanting to kill himself he calls the suicide hotline who advise him to go to a Manhattan emergency room. There he sees a doctor who is about to just send him home, but not satisfied with that Craig convinces him that he is suicidal and so the doctor admits him.
Now, Craig is kind of naïve about what being admitted to a hospital psych ward entails. He believes that it is going to be a "quick fix" not realizing that he is going to have to be there at least five days. He is told by his psychiatrist, Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis – Doubt, Eat Pray Love), that he must stay, participate in the groups and will be revaluated after five days.
Craig is stressed out, but what he doesn't realize is that he is actually a very normal 16-year-old. He is intelligent and attends one of the most competitive prep schools in New York City. There is pressure on him from his father (Jim Gaffigan – Three Kings, Away We Go) who wants him to succeed and he is obsessed with his best friend Aaron's (Thomas Mann – appeared in episodes of iCarly) girlfriend, Nia (Zoe Kravitz – The Brave One, No Reservations).
Due to renovations Craig is placed on the adult ward despite being a teenager. He is quickly taken under the wing of a patient named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis – The Hangover, Into the Wild). Despite their age difference Craig and Bobby become friends. Craig also bonds with the only other teenager on the ward, Noelle (Emma Roberts – Blow, Valentine's Day), a girl who cuts herself. Amazingly it is this environment and this group of people who teach Craig that he is not alone, that he has people who care about him, how to deal with the stress he feels, and, most importantly, how to connect with those around him.
Adapted by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden from a semi-autobiographical novel by Ned Vizzini, this is a thoroughly likable film. Though it is set in a depressing environment filled with mentally unwell people it is anything but depressing. It is whimsical and filled with dark humour. As a film it is quite original in the manner it gets the story across with the fourth wall being broken as the characters address the audience, there are some animated sections where we see what is inside the characters' minds transformed into cartoon drawings and there are 80s styled videos that pop up in the middle of the story. The film does not follow your typical movie structure and that is for the better.
The best scenes in the films are those between Gilchrist and Galifianakis. They have a great rapport onscreen and you believe everything that they go through together. Their friendship (on a psych ward and despite their age difference) is a realistic one. Galifianakis shows a different side of himself. He is not just capable of the zany, crazy, funny characters, but also open, vulnerable and serious ones. The film shows he is not just a comedian, he is a good actor. I was pleasantly surprised at the nuance and depth of his performance.
It forces us to confront our feelings of fear and safety. Many of the patients feared the outside world and felt safe at the hospital. Not all places that we feel safe in are good places for us to be for long periods of time. We can fall into that rut and not be able to function properly as a result. Connection to the world and people around us is paramount. We have to take that risk if we want something more for our lives.
The only weak part of the film is the light approach it takes to mental illness. The illnesses are used to make us feel empathy for the characters, but the film does not go deep enough to be disturbing. It borders on trivialization of a serious issue. I was not too hard on it because it was not the first film to do this and as a plus it makes you look at things differently.