By Nathanael Griffis
My brother demanded that my dad and I watch this movie. I don’t trust my brother’s movie judgment all the time, but after seeing It’s Kind of a Funny Story, my estimation of his opinion has gone up. This movie is spectacular as an honest, hopeful look at escaping depression. It doesn’t have any of the rough cynicism of doctors and psychiatrists who can’t help their struggling patients, which is seen in movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The story focuses on Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist), a normal, stressed-out teenager–no drug-addicted parents or sudden loss in the family, he’s normal and relatable, just struggling with depression. One night he checks himself into a psych-ward because of suicidal thoughts he can’t eliminate.
The rest of the movie is a respectful, introspective, and comedic look at mental illness. Craig goes from denial of his problem through shame and eventual acceptance, and it’s all done with wonderful respect. One never gets the sense that directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are exploiting their subjects; they love these characters and want to help them succeed as much as we do. Craig is mentored by an older patient named Bobby (played by Zach Galifianakis, who really stretches his acting ability here). Craig meets a girl, reunites with his family, and makes steps towards conquering his depression. What’s even more amazing is that it’s all believable. Sometimes in feel-good films I find myself thinking yeah, right, it doesn’t work that way in real life. It’s Kind of a Funny Story does the work needed to make you realize that success is achievable. It can’t be magically manufactured in the last five minutes of a movie.
The humor seems humane and not mean-spirited. Craig clearly is surrounded by very disturbed individuals, and that’s strange, bizarre, and uncomfortable at times, but we never lose the sense that these people are not immutably damaged. Every character has a chance to change, and you want them to even if it’s just your run-of-the-mill, bedridden-with-fear Egyptian schizophrenic taking a few steps out his door. Boden and Fleck (who also adapted the screenplay) imbibe each scene and character with such honest humanity that you can relate thoroughly. It’s painful to watch Bobby struggle as his wife verbally abuses him or as he panics over a group home interview. Craig is still a self-centered teenager who betrays his best friend, but he accepts the consequences and admits his wrongs. In the midst of all this there is a whole cast of characters, from Noelle (played by Emma Roberts) who is more than just a love interest for Craig but also a symbol of hope to those struggling with self-mutilation. Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis play an orderly and the head doctor, respectively, with respect for their positions and the people around them. Jim Gaffigan and Lauren Graham are loving but distracted parents, like most are, and it’s amazing to just watch these characters grow with each other.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have built up quite a resume in the past five years with the Oscar-nominated Half Nelson, the equally buried and highly underrated Sugar (which is one of the best sports movies ever made and easily one the best baseball films), and now this delightful, lighthearted romance with a serious message of hope for anyone struggling with mental illness. In Half Nelson, they approached inner-city education, drug addiction, and drug-dealing with the same poise. Sugar is an honest look at racism, identity, and sports in American culture like I’ve never seen combined. They’ve only done small independent movies, but I hope it stays that way, because they seem to have such a grasp on character, and they get such amazing performances out of all their actors, that I would not want to see them tarnished by the demands of a major studio.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a must-see, especially for high school students and teens. It’s funny, relatable, and respectful of their position. It never seems to be talking down to teenagers struggling with the pressures of society or to people with mental illnesses. There is a respect for the issues people deal with. Ultimately, Craig is a teen whom some might say needs to suck it up and just work harder, that his life is fine and what does he have to complain about. What Boden and Fleck understand is that it doesn’t matter what caused the depression so much as getting the person to a place where they can succeed. The focus is hope, not diagnosis. If you get a chance to see It’s Kind of a Funny Story, don’t pass it up–this one’s worth it.