TIFF10 REVIEW: It’s Kind of a Funny Story [2010]

“I would just live like it meant something”

I’ll admit, an adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story wasn’t what I thought Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck would pursue after two well-received dramas in Half Nelson and Sugar. The trailers did express the dramedy aspect, though, despite media outlets incessantly calling it the next comedy starring Zach Galifianakis, so no one should go in thinking it will necessarily be a laugh riot. It’s very funny, in fact a lot funnier than I expected, but the setting of a hospital mental ward and a collection of eccentric characters all battling their personal demons cannot be tossed to the side. There is depth to the story and Keir Gilchrist’s leading performance—it’s his coming out party as a talent worthy of carrying his own film, with help from a stellar supporting cast, after an extended run with Showtime’s “United States of Tara”. The film starts and ends with his Craig, a sensitive high schooler working through the kind of stress we all do growing up. Enrolled in Brooklyn’s best public educational facility and attempting to gain admission into an even better prep school, the nightmares of riding his bike to the Brooklyn Bridge and jumping aren’t exactly surprising. Checking himself into a mental hospital for observation at age 16 is.

Being the World Premiere screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, both Boden and Fleck walked onstage to thank everyone for coming and express their genuine pleasure with the film they had created. Right from the start, both auteurs let their stamp be shown with a self-narrated fantasy sequence of Craig readying for his suicide only to be abruptly interrupted by his family, appearing suddenly on the bridge and sarcastically explaining how he doesn’t need to worry about their feelings. He hasn’t had a bad childhood; he’d be the first to admit that it was actually a happy one. His parents love him and he has a ton of friends, all just as scholastically accomplished. But something changed one afternoon upon the discovery of the fairer sex and the daunting future he’d soon need to decide on. Craig’s best friend Aaron (Thomas Mann) recently started seeing the girl of his dreams, Nia (Zoë Kravitz); his father (Jim Gaffigan) has become more absent with work, right on the cusp of the application process to get into the school he went to; and, truthfully, this young man doesn’t have a clue as to what he wants.

So, right before dawn, he bikes to the nearest hospital and asks for help. The doctor on duty explains it is just growing pains and he is fine to return home with the promise he’ll start taking his pills for battling depression again. It’s not enough, though, as Craig fears being outside will only make him want to fulfill his nightmares. Begging to stay, he is finally ushered over to the psychiatric wing, not knowing the children’s side was under renovation and he’d be residing with the adults. Fearful of his Egyptian roommate who hasn’t left his bed in days (Bernard White’s Muqtada) and feeling completely out of place, the realization of his signing the paperwork necessitating at least five days of observation sinks in. Stuck with nowhere to go, the stress increases since his parents now must find out, his friends can’t know so as not to spread the truth around school, and he’ll have to partake in therapy sessions with Viola Davis’s Dr. Minerva, hashing out his troubles and hopefully gaining back his freedom. However, he never would have guessed how much in common he has with each crazy person there, not only finding a way to cope with his own troubles, but also discovering ways to help his new friends.

Galifianakis’s Bobby volunteers to guide Craig around the hospital, showing him the tricks and introducing the rest of the patients. Deflecting his own problems with this new distraction, Bobby infuses some great humor by good-heartedly poking fun at everyone’s reason for being there, but never indulging in his own. A father desperately trying to find a place to live so his daughter can stay nights, Galifianakis shows a range of emotion we haven’t really seen from him before. There is warmth to his humor rather than the idiocy we are used to, allowing us as viewers to relate to his emotional wrestling and buy the bad times of unchecked rage. Bobby and Craig form an integral pairing in the story, the former becoming the kind of friend the latter discovers he never really had while the elder sees the hope and joy in his young compadre, hoping some might rub off. They discuss girls and dreams and attempt to scratch the surface of the deep seeded roots causing their situations, each darker moment contrasted by the antics of Bobby, Humble (Matthew Maher), Johnny (Adrian Martinez), and the rest. Zach spoke afterwards about the latitude given for improvisation and Keir the fact that he always felt Anna and Ryan had his back, both allowed space to give genuine performances.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story quickly shows itself as a coming of age tale both sweetly absurd and surprisingly authentic. There are brilliant interludes of flashbacks tainted with the cynical mind recreating them, fantasy sequences of painted ‘brain cities’ animated to life, and a karaoke version of David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” with full costumes—one of the funniest moments of the year—to go with the brilliant score by Broken Social Scene. Gilchrist’s Craig is extremely relatable; he may never have gone through with suicide, but the pressures put upon him are all too real at his age, an unknown future ahead. Unorthodox for sure, the relationships he makes in the mental ward could very well be the ones that shape his life. Between Galifianakis and Emma Roberts’s love interest Noelle, (a performance proving she has the talent to make it big like her aunt), you invest the time to watch everything unfold, knowing things will work out. We all have those “it’s kind of a funny story, but” anecdotes to share with the ones we care for and what Boden and Fleck put on film here upholds those sensibilities, giving their audience laughs along with truth. We all have our bad days; it’s the people we hold dear that always end up being there to help us through.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

[1] Keir Gilchrist (left) and Zach Galifianakis (right) star in writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, a Focus Features release. Credit: K.C. Bailey ©2010 Focus Features
[2] Emma Roberts stars in writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, a Focus Features release. Credit: K.C. Bailey ©2010 Focus Features
[3] Zoe Kravitz stars as Nia in Focus Features’ It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

2 Thoughts to “TIFF10 REVIEW: It’s Kind of a Funny Story [2010]”

  1. Linda P

    Wonderful news, this review and well-written. I’m really looking forward to Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s new film. They never disappoint.

    1. thanks much for reading … hope you enjoy the film when it releases.

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