Review of It's Kind of a Funny Story

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Adapted from Ned Vizzini's 2006 novel, It's Kind of a Funny Story tells the story of burnt-out teenager Craig (Keir Gilchrist), who checks himself into a mental health clinic citing exhaustion, and finds himself placed in the adult ward due to the fact that the youth ward has been shut down. Taken under the wing of fellow patient Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), the stressed-out 16-year-old attempts to endure his mandatory five days' stay without completely losing his mind. His predicament is made somewhat more tolerable by the presence of Noelle (Emma Roberts), another teenage patient who's struggling to sort out her thoughts.
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Movie Review: "It's Kind of a Funny Story"

-- Rating: PG-13 (mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material, language)
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: September 26, 2010
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance

Based on the popular young adult novel by Ned Vizzini, "It's Kind of a Funny Story" follows Craig (Keir Gilchrist, "The World According to Tara") on a five-day trip of self-realization. It happens to take place in a mental hospital, an unlikely setting for what evolves as a light-hearted drama bordering on comedy. Even better is the presence of fellow-patient, Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, "The Hangover") who somehow manages to provide the voice of reason despite outlandish outbursts. Galifianakis, masterfully, keeps his role from slipping into slapstick.

The plot follows Craig as he struggles with the fairly normal challenges every teen boy faces. He likes the wrong girl, his parents are never satisfied and he's feeling-like many kids do at that age-overwhelmed. He does what we wish so many teens would do and reaches out for help. Unfortunately, the way he reaches out lands him in the mental ward of a Brooklyn hospital.

Renovations in the teen wing open the door for Craig to find the mentors he's been looking for in an intimidating roommate named Muqtada (Bernard White, "The Matrix Revolutions") and a variety of wacky and whimsical adult mental patients. Bobby is played seamlessly by Zach Galifianakis, who couldn't be more convincing as an adult struggling with the confines of truth and fantasy. His moments of clarity are as spellbinding as his bouts of dementia are frightening. As much as audiences come to love Bobby, there is something tragic in seeing the proof that one of our favorite characters is irreparably broken.

Craig also finds the ladies his life has been missing, with a budding romance with depressed teen, Noelle (Emma Roberts, "Hotel for Dogs") and the ward's reigning doctor, Eden Minerva (Viola Davis, "The Help"). In a sharp contrast to the women he knows in the outside world, these characters provide the comfort and compassion many teens are secretly looking for.

Over his five-day stay at the ward, Craig watches as his troubles are slowly brought into focus, something that he wasn't able to manage on his own. With space from parents who didn't know how to connect with him or give him the comfort he needed and the friends whose benefits offered as many problems as solutions, he realizes that the problems in his life aren't really that big of a deal.

This movie is made for young adults, and it relays that important lesson in a way they can accept. It's a good lesson for parents as well. We forget how intense the sadness of normal problems can be for our kids and have a habit of comparing them to the larger world. Teens rarely live in that world. Starving children in China and bombing in Israel have little bearing on boys who care about girls who ignore them every day and girls struggling to find the right balance between being smart and pretty. In their world, the acceptance of parents and friends can feel like a life-or-death issue.

At the same time, "It's Kind of a Funny Story" does not scratch the surface of serious ills some teens face daily. Craig isn't being bullied, he isn't surrounded by poverty or violence and he doesn't have to worry about being physically or sexually abused. His parents aren't drug addicts. They aren't even divorcing. For teens dealing with big issues, there's not as much comfort taken in Craig's revelations. Hopefully, however, it will encourage all kids to see they have access to help if they really need it.

Not since Daniel Radcliff claimed the role of Harry Potter did an actor fit a role as well as Keir Gilchrist took over Craig. Many fans of the book felt he could have skipped out of the book straight into the movie. Gilchrist won audiences over with his understated angst and immeasurably high self-expectations.

We watch in frustration as his father (comic, Jim Gaffigan) can't see the damage he's doing. Dr. Eden Minerva replaces the Nurse Hatchet-standard expected in movies set in asylums with a kind, concerned and believable health provider. Galifianakis's performance as Bobby nearly steals the show, but somehow he manages to roll it back just enough to keep from taking the spotlight off Gilchrist. The casting is "It's Kind of a Funny Story" had the power to make or break the movie, and wound up creating a film that touches both your heart and your funny bone.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars