This dramatic comedy about a depressive 16-year-old who spends a week in a mental-health ward for adults nimbly walks that line between artful authenticity and hokey trivialization.
Keir Gilchrist plays Craig, a perfectionist given to spirals of anxiety over everything from girls to grades to “impending environmental disaster.” The writing-directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck use clever insert shots, flashbacks and even animation to take us inside Craig’s over-taxed brain. At its best, It’s Kind of a Funny Story reveals the torrent of thoughts that actually lie behind the automated response favored by teens when asked just about any question: “I don’t know.”
Though this is Craig’s story, the heart of the film belongs to Zach Galifianakis, making an impressive bid to join that exclusive club of comedians with serious acting chops. As Bobby, the ward’s unofficial master of ceremonies, Galifianakis is very funny – few comic actors can employ silent pauses as hysterically as he does. Yet Galifianakis is also always sure to let Bobby’s hurt peek out between the punch lines. He’s the real deal.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story occasionally gives in to Hollywood hokum, but even most of those moments work, including a giddy fantasy sequence in which Craig and his glammed-out fellow patients perform a rendition of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” In fact, there’s a tiny detail during this scene that nicely embodies the entire film. Emma Roberts plays Noelle, another teen who is in the ward for repeatedly cutting herself. Tracks of scars run down her cheeks, but in this sequence they’re replaced by lines of shimmering, celebratory glitter. It’s the perfect, poetic image for a rare movie that’s able to honestly juggle mental illness and a sense of hope.