I can respect a movie that focuses on characters far more easily than I can one that focuses on plot. There's something intrinsically pleasing and human about getting to know someone through the lens of a projected screen. It gives you a baseline to build a foundation of a movie experience, whereas a focus on plot tends to have several points of friction. Of course, almost any effective piece of cinematic art depends on both characterization and
plot to capture the attention of its viewers. It's Kind of a Funny Story
tells a... kind of funny story about a teenager who checks himself into a psychiatric ward after contemplating suicide. While this one sentence introduction might suggest something like a black comedy or tragic drama, directors Anna Boden
and Ryan Fleck
approach the topic with varying degrees of levity and gravity with a fair amount of success.
The danger of approaching a topic like suicide or depression is the risk of crossing the line too far in either direction. Luckily, this film benefits both from being adapted from a novel and well written dialogue by the writer-directors. I can say with reasonable certainty that these psychological disorders are treated with respect yet given room to be approached in a human way.
Our protagonist Craig (played by Kier Gilchrist
) isn't quite sure exactly what he needs when he stumbles into the ER, meeting an unlikely doctor asking him what's wrong. After admitting himself to the psychiatric ward, Craig finds that the man he met dressed in medical scrubs is actually a patient named Bobby ( Zach Galifianakis
). While Craig tries to figure out what's wrong with him and slowly learns to combat his weaknesses, he learns more about Bobby and meets a host of other patients with various conditions, the most notable being an attractive young woman with scars on her cheek ( Emma Roberts
Much of the story is told through flashbacks colored by Craig's own present-day perceptions, proving to be an effective means of revealing his motivations. While the voice-over apparent in these scenes initially made me nervous, it ultimately helped drive the point of each flashback without being too heavy-handed. Additionally, the dialogue proves to be emotionally resonant due to how real each exchange feels. Craig doesn't deliver each line with a mastery of emotion nor does he disgorge his thoughts like a child.
Unfortunately, the plot suffers from poor pacing that tends to sap some of the momentum from big moments in the film. It's Kind of a Funny Story
seems to approach a few too many issues with a few too many characters, leading to some disjointed transitions that are linked together only by chronology. This is my biggest gripe overally, mostly because it plays the most prominent role in taking the movie down one unnecessary notch.
One of the most impressive things Boden and Fleck brought to the screen was the performances by the principal actors. Gilchrist was a complete stranger to me when I first saw him, but he managed to impress me enough to keep an eye out for him in the future. Emma Roberts was in a similar position and while she didn't blow me away by any means, I look forward to seeing her charismatic presence on the screen in better written roles. Galifianakis played the standout performance by far, proving that he can act in far more serious roles than his typical archetype in films like The Hangover
and Dinner for Schmucks
As I said earlier, characters often play a much bigger part than plot in connecting a film with its viewers. In this case, It's Kind of a Funny Story
presents strong, impactful characters that'll stay in my mind. While the plot may be disjointed and some loose ends remain so, it's easy for me to forgive many of the mistakes because of the rich connections I had with Craig, Bobby, and Noelle.