The mental patients at the center of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” are treated with surprising humor and sanity in both the mundane routine of everyday life and the fantasy sequences of its protagonist. The result is a film that charms, in spite of inconsistent pacing, because of its relatable characters grounded in realistic situations.
Many teens today can connect with the film’s basic plot. Protagonist and narrator Craig (Keir Gilchrist) feels too pressured by family and friends to be the typical overachieving high schooler. To get relief from his stress he commits himself to a psych ward under the false assumption he’ll merely get put on meds — an appealing quick-fix. But when the reality of having to stay in the ward initially throws Craig for a loop, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” hits some of its most awkwardly hilarious moments.
The everyday humor of life in the ward is offset by Craig’s fantasy sequences. While there are good moments in Craig’s dreams, the device has a divisive effect. Occasionally it works — like when he imagines what happens on the other end of phone calls. Occasionally it completely fails, such as during his overly-narrated plans for the future. Some of the unrealistic ones felt misplaced amid the drab reality, namely the well-staged but pointless “Under Pressure” dream performance. Such drastic changes in tone couldn’t happen organically.
Anna Boden, who co-directed and co-wrote the film with Ryan Fleck, was also the editor and did not do the subtlest job. Craig has two flash-forward fantasies, and while one is done in video format, the other is comprised of stills, an inconsistency that results in a poorly flowing film. There are also moments within scenes where cuts between shots feel choppy, such as when Zach Galifianakis’ character, Bobby, has a breakdown in front of his new advisee, Craig. What did work for that scene was Galifianakis’ performance.
What “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” does get right is casting, overseen by Cindy Tolan. There are some great, restrained performances, particularly that of Galifianakis. Normally known for over-the-top shenanigans, he is toned down in this role, making his emotional turmoil and outbursts all the more effective.
Gilchrist gives a convincing performance as Craig. The character always looks uneasy, as if he’s about to vomit, which he actually does on occasion. But that nervousness makes Craig’s situation more relatable.
Emma Roberts brings a believable darkness — becoming more convincing than her megastar aunt — as Noelle, a cutter and the other teen patient in the ward who connects with Craig.
The film’s world is fleshed out by tiny but nuanced supporting roles. Viola Davis as psychiatrist Dr. Eden Minerva exudes understanding authority, while Jeremy Davies as ward aide Smitty appears as crazy as the patients. Lauren Graham brings more heft to a furrowed brow than one would think possible as Craig’s straining-to-connect mother Lynn.
Despite some rough construction, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” works. Thanks to a sweet, relatable plot and a top-notch cast, being charmed by this film doesn’t seem so crazy.
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” was co-written and co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. It is based on the novel by Ned Vizzini.