Film Review – It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Craig is 16 years old, thin and impossibly shy. He’s pretty sure nobody understands him. He’s in love with his best friend’s girlfriend. He dreams of committing suicide. At one point in the movie Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist) sits in an art class, confined in a psychiatric ward at a city hospital. He’s surrounded by people with all kinds of problems, anti-social tendencies, suicidal tendencies, schizophrenia. Craig came to be here of his own volition and quickly regretted it. He’d be the first to tell you, he doesn’t belong here. But as he sits in this mock classroom with a blank piece of paper and a pile of art supplies before him the teacher urges him to draw something, anything. Finally he relents.

What he ends up drawing is a city center, from a bird’s eye view. It’s a neat piece of graffiti style art, an inspiration, we learn, from an encounter with his mother when he was a child. This complex, intricate web of lines that make up Craig’s illustration is emblematic, a visual representation of Craig’s problem and it’s solution. He may not know it but he’s drawn a  labyrinth with no way in and no way out. The labyrinth is a Greek invention and they had a very specific use for it.  A labyrinth was a place not to get lost in but to find yourself.

The whole movie revolves around Craig’s journey to find himself. The pressures of school, of finding a girlfriend, of his father’s expectations, all are working against Craig, putting considerable pressure on his slouching shoulders. He feels claustrophobic. His dreams of suicide feel more real every day. In a fit of crisis, with nobody to turn to, Craig checks himself into the psychiatric ward. He doesn’t know he has to be held for a minimum of five days. He also doesn’t know that the adolescent ward is closed for renovations and all the kids have been lumped in with the adults. He doesn’t know he’ll be forced to share a room with a middle-aged Egyptian man with a hygiene problem who refuses to get out of bed or socialize with anyone. Obviously, this doesn’t really work for Craig. I mean, he thinks about committing suicide but it’s not like he’s crazy, right?

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is very aptly titled. The humor blips in and out, like a heart rate monitor. It’s a sometimes goofy indie comedy with aspirations of a weightier drama. Think Little Miss Sunshine meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Many of the established tropes of indie filmmaking are utilized. It’s a clear example that indie films have been appropriated by the studios and given their own paint-by-numbers templates. It’s a film that’s colorful and precious without ever confusing you as to where it’s headed. It has a lot in common with Avatar and all the movies that Avatar ripped off. It’s the story of the outsider, who comes into a strange world he doesn’t respect or care about. But slowly he starts to care and by the end of the movie he’ll have learned some important lessons. He’ll help to change the broken people around him and through his efforts he’ll be changed as well. Yep, it’s that story.

But that’s not really a bad thing. This is a great date movie, with solid laughs, a few tugs at the heartstrings and some great performances. Kier Gilchrist plays Craig as totally believable and sympathetic. He gives Michael Cera a run for his money in the awkward department. Or just see the movie for Zach Gilifianakis. I don’t think the movie would be terrible without him, like last year’s The Hangover would have been, but he’s definitely worth the price of admission. So what if you know how it’s all going to turn out? So what if clouds in the background turn into watercolor renditions and Keir plays his character at 8 years old like Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? So what if the oppressive father (played by Jim Gaffigan) never really feels all the oppressive (and so what if I kept wishing Gaffigan would break into his Hot Pocket routine)? It’s a fun ride and it’s a solid movie. And we get a fun synchronized rendition of “Under Pressure” performed by the characters. So what? You got a problem with that?

Final Grade: B-