IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (Dirs. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2010)
After a couple of extremely promising dramas (HALF NELSON and SUGAR), the writing/directing duo of Boden and Fleck now give us the comic story of a suicidal teenager (Keir Gilchrist) who checks into an adult psychiatric ward.
This is because the juvenile ward is undergoing renovations, but really so he can bond with comedian Zach Galifianakis as a friendly patient with family problems.
Gilchrist hates his situation and wants out immediately but has to stay for a five day evaluation. It helps that he’s attracted to the 16 year old emotionally disturbed Emma Roberts.
Gilchrist and Roberts fall into a round-the-clock flirtation, meeting each other for art classes in which Gilchrist’s confidence is boasted when he impresses everyone with his art which the film animates.
The confused kid also impresses with his musical ability via one of the most embarrassing and unnecessary musical numbers of recent memory: a rock video sequence set to the Queen/David Bowie song “Under Pressure” complete with glam costuming, strobe lighting, and backup singer nurses that aren’t in the rest of the movie.
That’s the problem with this film – all the gimmickry. What could have been an earnest depiction of dealing with depression is yet another Wes Anderson style retread. It has all the clichés you’d expect such as a virgin lead fumbling through the advice of quirky characters that are supposed to be seriously messed up but actually are just slightly screwy.
Galifianakis is one of the best standups out there (check out “Live at the Purple Onion” if you haven’t) and also a strong supporting actor (see HBO’s Bored To Death), but this is a lazily written role. Galifianakis has a few effective moments, such as acting out a tantrum in a key scene, but try is he might this weak material never elevates above “After School Special” territory.
It’s like making a sitcom out of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEXT or GIRL INTERRUPTED. The result is to trivialize mental illness for the sake of an anything-for-a-laugh mentality.
This is apparent in the casting. Every other role is a recognizable actor or actress that do little but walk on for the purpose of familiarity. For example there’s Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show as a doctor, Gilchrist’s parents are played by comedian Jim Gaffigan and Gilmore Girls mom Lauren Graham, Jeremy Davies (Lost) is in a nothing role as a hospital attendant, and Violas Davis (DOUBT) as a stern but, of course, fair doctor.
IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is too cutesy and clunky to hold much water. When Gilchrist and Roberts run laughing down the corridors of the hospital with a pop song (courtesy of The Broken Social Scene) pumping on the soundtrack it made my heart sink.
The notion that real despair is curable by way of a puppy love fling and bumper sticker wisdom is anything but uplifting. In fact it’s more depressing than anything anyone faces in this empty and immensely forgettable film.