Friday, February 3, 2012

Living Up To My High Expectations, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story Entertains!

The Good: Funny, Entertaining, Captures reality well, Great performances
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features, One plot moment
The Basics: Near-perfect, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story manages to capture a difficult aspect of reality while still entertaining.

I can think of few movies I have been excitedly waiting to see as much as It’s Kind Of A Funny Story. I saw one preview for the film, a few years back, and it has been in my queue of movies to see ever since. So, when my library managed to get in It’s Kind Of A Funny Story for me, I eagerly bundled up for a night and made a pretty pure viewing out of the experience. I cannot remember the last time I was excited for a movie where the film so lived up to my expectations.

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is a story of a character at the end of his rope, suffering from depression. But, unlike recent mental illness movies like The Soloist (reviewed here!), which accurately portrayed reality in the most miserable and gruesome way possible, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story manages to capture the uncertainty and fragility of a youthful breakdown while still being thoroughly entertaining. In fact, the movie made me laugh, choke up and relate more than I ever squirmed. I think the only other mental illness movie I enjoyed this much was the classic One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (reviewed here!). It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is more accessible than that and has a great cast as well!

Having seriously contemplated suicide, Craig checks himself in at the nearest New York hospital. Much to his surprise, the admitting doctor does not simply give him a prescription, he sends him to the hospital’s residential psychiatric floor. Because the floor for teen patients is currently undergoing renovations, the sixteen year-old is put in with the adults. After an unnerving tour by Smitty and fellow patient Bobby, Craig is unnerved. Compelled to stay for a full week, he is supported by his too-busy father and overprotective mother who agree that the hospitalization is probably necessary.

During a group session, Bobby expresses a need for a dress shirt for an interview for a group home he wants to move into. When Craig volunteers one of his father’s dress shirts, it draws the attention of Noelle. Noelle is a young cutter who is shy and insecure and she begins a conversation with Craig. Together, they converse and do art together, while Craig slowly comes to realize that the anxieties he has over the world and his future are steering him in a direction different from the one he thought he was headed in. Unsettled by Bobby, his xenophobic roommate Muqtaga, and visitors from his high school, Craig moves toward an important epiphany.

Because I am liable to simply gush about the film, I wanted to write first about what I didn’t like. On DVD, there is no commentary track for the movie and I think it could have used at least two different commentary tracks. There was one plot moment late in the movie wherein Craig makes a bad decision that made me grumble. It wasn’t Chasing Amy (reviewed here!), sit up and yell at the screen, guts the appreciation of the character bad, but it was pretty unnerving. That said, the movie recovers from that moment and went on to leave me very satisfied.

Part of what I liked about It’s Kind Of A Funny Story was how it managed to defy expectations even in its most formulaic moments. I tend to get seriously bugged by movies where two people end up in a romantic (or supposedly romantic, often the romance is actually missing, I’ve noticed) situation simply because they are the two people of the right age in the same place. Proximity does not always breed relationships and more often than not when that conceit is used, it upsets me. In It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, Craig and Noelle have a flirtatious relationship and it seems like the movie is building toward the two of them having a relationship. This, however, actually works in It’s Kind Of A Funny Story because the shared experience of youthful mental illness and the trapped conditions actually make it more realistic, not less. Unlike a forced romantic subplot in a horror movie where two people who are simply proximate suddenly develop feelings, two young people sorting their issues out is actually a shared conflict that reasonably breeds closeness. It’s Kind Of A Funny Story captures that exceptionally well.

The characters in It’s Kind Of A Funny Story are very interesting. Craig seems both very typical and subtly extraordinary. He has clear goals and desires, all of which have been sublimated to the expectations put upon him. It’s Kind Of A Funny Story does a good job of making his character journey realistic, well-paced and as uncertain as it ought to be. Similarly, without saying exactly what Bobby suffers from, his character is well-defined in such a way that it is as clear as the cut-marks on Noelle’s face and forearms.

What makes It’s Kind Of A Funny Story a decent exploration of the human condition that both captures reality well and does not insult the intelligence of the viewer is the fact that the movie does not pander. So, for example, the film begins with Craig contemplating jumping to his death and realizing that he needs help. Very late in the film, Craig ends up on a high place and the movie is not so simplistic, stupid or pandering as to stop to acknowledge the moment. Instead, the viewer picks up on the idea that Craig is in a different place and that jumping no longer occurs to him. I like that.

Like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is dominated by great performances. This was the first work I had seen Keir Gilchrist in and he blew me away as Craig. Subtle and realistic, Gilchrist is able to embody a young person having a serious crisis without making it melodramatic. What makes Gilchrist’s Craig work so well is that he is not suffering a severe disorder, merely breaking under the weight of what most people take as the “normal” experience. Gilchrist deserves a lot of credit for not hamming it up and making the character feel overblown or extraordinary in any way. That portrayal of realism works delightfully well for him.

Emma Roberts lights up the screen as Noelle in It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, continuing her ascent into the collective unconscious as one of the rising stars of her generation. She is smart, has a great ability to present herself as physically withdrawn and she brings those qualities to Noelle, making her seem both broken and desirable. Even Zach Galifianakis is great as Bobby. He does not ham up his part, nor does he shy away from being unsettling when the role calls for it. Supported by Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Aasif Mandvi, Bernard White and Jeremy Davies It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is fleshed with a great cast, all of whom make the most out of their (even small) roles.

On DVD, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story comes with minimal bonus features. The film has featurettes on the making of the movie, as well as a look at the premiere of the movie. With deleted scenes and tons of previews, the disc could have more that truly explored the film and it is disappointing that that is lacking from the movie. That said, the primary programming on this disc is extraordinary enough to keep one happily engaged.

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is a rare film that manages to make the ordinary extraordinary and remind viewers that the world is what we make of it, not what others insist it must be.

For other works with Aasif Mandvi, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Last Airbender
The Proposal
Spider-Man 2


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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