Botton line? Kind of a funny story.
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Written By: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, from Ned Vizzini's novel
Cast: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Zoë Kravitz
Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 9/29/10
Opens: October 8, 2010
The movie screens are filled each year with coming-of-age comedies and dramas, François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows," about an ignored adolescent's flirtation with petty crime being perhaps the best known. But never before have I seen a movie about a teenage boy who gains sudden maturity and insight after a five-days' occupancy of a psychiatric hospital. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's comedy-drama "It's Kind of a Funny Story" is just that: it's funny, but only kind-of, which is just fine, particularly given the likability of both principal performers and side roles throughout. Craig (Keir Gilchrist), the sixteen-year-old telling us in the audience his kind of funny story, is the awkward kid whom girls of his age refer to as "cute." Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) may not be his mirror image but at the age of thirty-six, also a "cute" person and one who has psychiatric problems similar to Craig's, serves as a mentor. It helps that Galifianakis proved his comic talents in the drunken misadventures that inform Todd Phillips's "The Hangover" last year. As persons separated by twenty years of chronological age but similar in emotional years, the two center the action, bringing in the talents of folks with a variety of mental illnesses, all photographed in Brooklyn (including a couple of shots of my alma mater, Poly Prep).
Flex and Boden, whose previous work, "Half Nelson"-about a drug addicted teacher and the junior high school student with whom he forms a bond-are in their métier, having filmed that tale in Brooklyn as well. This time, the story takes place largely within a psychiatric hospital, though Andrij Perekh takes his cameras to various Brooklyn spots including Hasidic Williamsburg, Park Slope, Bay Ridge, Downtown Brooklyn, the Heights Esplanade with its dazzling view of the Manhattan skyline, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
For a kid who actually wants to check into such a facility, he doesn't seem too badly off, given his rich parents (Jim Gaffigan, Lauren Graham), his intellectual sister (Dana De Vestern), and his native smarts-though like other gifted teens he's stressed from the pressures of college aspirations and his parents' dreams of bringing up the next President of the United States. After dreaming about taking the plunge from the Brooklyn Bridge, he asks a doctor (Aasif Mandvi) to admit him to the psychiatric wing, though because of renovations in the youth section, he is sent to the adult wing under the supervision of a caring Dr. Eden Minerva (Viola Davis).
As Craig's self-appointed mentor, Bobby, the genial but suicidal fellow, shows the kid the ropes of the hospital but more important, clues him into what life offers, particularly how to talk to women. This is valuable, given Craig's lusting after Nia (Zoë Kravitz), his best friend's steady squeeze. He practices the counsel with an inmate his own age, Noelle (Emma Roberts), who had tried to kill herself. Among the loonier inmates are Craig's Egyptian roommate (Bernard White), who rarely leaves his bed; another guy who simply stands frozen when he is served with a ping-pong ball; a Hasidic acid-head Daniel London) with sensitive hearing who regularly warns "Keep it down"; and a schizo with regular outbursts comprehensible only to him.
Galifianakis, who currently tours the country with his stand-up comedy act and who is one of the title characters in Jay Roach's "Dinner for Schmucks," makes a terrific father figure for the young lad whose own dad is a workaholic. The social work he performs for the boy is of immensely more value to the kid than a psychiatrist would be, though Viola Davis's Dr. Minerva is the warm doctor many of us with we had.
The pace is zippy, the borough of Brooklyn is gorgeous, and the bottom line? It's kind of a funny story.
Rated PG-13. 101 minutes. © 2010 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online