It's Kind of a Funny Story is cute, bordering on cutesy. It's light and shallow and inconsequential in many ways. But funny? Rarely.
Based on a Ned Vizzini novel about a teen who checks himself into an adult mental ward and discovers something about himself and the troubled souls around him, it stumbles pleasantly and predictably down that fine line between "sweetly sensitive" and "trite."
Keir Gilchrist plays Craig, an upper-class kid in a magnet school who is sweating grades, an application to a prestigious summer school for future Wall Street barons, his best friend's girlfriend and a family that doesn't seem to get him. He worries that his dreams of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge will become more than dreams, so he gets admitted into a psych ward in a New York hospital.
There he meets eccentric, wounded Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), his tour guide to schizophrenia, dementia, depression and self-injury. A cute "cutter," Noelle (Emma Roberts), might bring out Craig's emo side. If only he can stop "stress vomiting" and panicking over what his friends and family will think.
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The ward is peppered with "types" — which is unfortunate. There's a Hasidic Jew who is confined after a bad acid trip, an elderly schizophrenic who bellows "It'll come to you" to one and all, and Bobby and Noelle — both of whom must have tragic backgrounds, but which the movie, like its self-absorbed lead character, doesn't care to learn.
Even the lead characters aren't drawn with any depth. Gilchrist comes off as a younger, duller Justin Long.
The film's fantasy sequences, such as imagining everybody in music therapy pitching in on an overly appropriate Bowie/Queen song, are jarring and off-key.
And co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck rely on a confused voiceover narration in which our hero occasionally blurts out the obvious. ("I know this is only the beginning.") Their breakout film, Half Nelson, seems more and more of a fluke.
It's Kind of a Funny Story gets one thing right. It doesn't trivialize teen angst, but it does contextualize it. Showing a kid who is overwhelmed and demonstrating to him that his problems, while real, don't compare to more serious illnesses and struggles, suggests that empathy is part of his cure. There can't be a more positive message in a movie about mental illness, even one as trivial as this one often is.