Directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden have collaborated on several other movies before, but never in such a lighthearted, feel good way. It may seem odd that a movie about a clinically depressed teen in the psychiatric ward of a hospital is the most uplifting of the duo’s films, but It’s Kind of a Funny Story is more than just that. It’s a sometimes dramatic, often humorous coming-of-age story of the modern teenager.
The film, based on Ned Vizzini’s novel of the same name, follows 16-year-old Craig Gilner (played by a sweetly sincere Keir Gilchrist of The United States of Tara) as he struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. Mounting stress from his intense school workload, insensitive father, overshadowing best friend, and an impending summer school application, compels Craig to check himself into the hospital hoping to find refuge.
Fatefully, the teen ward is closed, so Craig is thrust into the adult ward, putting him face to face with Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), who becomes his informal mentor while struggling with his own problems. Noelle (played by Emma Roberts), the pretty but tormented other teen in the hospital, and several other characters influence his journey to recovery.
Gilchrist does a fantastic job portraying the slightly awkward, confused but well-meaning Craig. He captures the confusion of the depressed adolescent, giving him a genuine feel—not overly dramatic, but just right. He is especially good in the scenes dealing with the love triangle drama in his life. Craig’s main love interest is disappointingly under-developed (we never learn why she is in the ward) but likeable nonetheless. The real star of the show, however, is Galifianakis. Primarily known for his funny roles in other films like The Hangover, Galifianakis gets to flex his acting chops a bit more seriously in this one. Galifianakis rises magnificently to the challenge, bringing to life an utterly believable man who is tortured inside but manages to keep it together with a twisted sense of humor and a little bit of wisdom. His character, Bobby, connects with Craig and tries to help him realize how much Craig really has to live for. Galifianakis gets to show off his comedic talent as well, delivering most of the funny lines in the film (and there are plenty of them.)
In an interview, Fleck and Boden said they drew inspiration from the John Hughes films of the 80’s, such as The Breakfast Club. They also worked extensively with their art director, adding wood tones and art on the walls to make the hospital seem more visually palatable.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story covers all the bases without seeming too cliché or corny: funny, sad, touching, and dramatic while managing to successfully wrap them up into a perfectly enjoyable movie.