Movie Review: It's Kind of a Funny Story

By Tom Houseman

October 5, 2010

He just realized that kid can't spell his name.

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The world of independent filmmaking tends to be one of creative chaos. Filmmakers from Darren Aronofsky to Richard Linklater to Harmony Korine wildly throw their ideas onto celluloid, with some sticking and others crumbling. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the creative team behind Half Nelson, Sugar, and their latest, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, seem to have a wildly different process. Few directors are as completely in control of every moment of their films as this duo, and while it makes it so that you know exactly what to expect going in, and you walk out unsurprised, I don’t necessarily mean any of that as a good thing. Much like the rest of their filmography, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a consistent film that progresses nicely with few twists and no surprises. Boden and Fleck have found their rhythm and seem perfectly content to stick with it, even if it keeps their films from ever achieving greatness.

Funny Story is a tidy package, which is surprising considering the film is set in the chaotic world of a mental ward. The film tells the story of Craig (Keir Gilchrist), a high school student who is suffering from depression, and commits himself after one too many suicidal thoughts. Boden and Fleck have taken a familiar formula and placed it in a new setting; Craig meets a series of wacky characters, goes through exciting adventures, meets a girl, learns some things about himself, and comes out the other side a better person. It’s so similar in plot and character development to the Diane Lane vehicle Under the Tuscan Sun that they might have changed the title to “Under the Psych Ward Fluorescents.”


A much lighter, more comedic film than their previous efforts, Funny Story is certainly entertaining, and fans Boden and Fleck will doubtlessly love it. But Boflecks (as I’ve decided to call them starting right now) never step out of their comfort zone, and the film moves at a respectable pace, but never reaches the wild unpredictability of, say, The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man.

In this film, every character has a role to play, a cog in the machine that is this film. There is not a mis-hit note in this symphony, and every actor absolutely nails the delivery on every line, which is an impressive feat. Keir Gilchrist’s wry smile and natural delivery ground the film well, and he is a very believable protagonist, which makes his journey easy to go on. The psych ward he inhabits is populated by a group of wacky characters, almost none of whom are developed, but who provide some huge laughs. And Emma Roberts as the suicidal love interest, Noelle, is... well, let’s just say that she does what she can with a wildly undeveloped character.

Is there even a point in noting that the absolute best thing about the film is Zach Galifianakis, or can everyone just assume that without needing to be told? That Galifianakis continues to find material to challenge himself as an actor is remarkable, and the effortlessness with which he plays a complicated role is breathtaking. Quickly proving himself to be one of the best modern comedic actors, Galifianakis completely steals the movie, and is the only actor who seems to be taking risks the material, providing a breath of fresh air that helps keep this film moving.

As a directing duo, Boflecks attempt to lift their straightforward script to another level, but the result falls flat. Funny Story is stylistically schizophrenic, with any creative flourishes distracting from rather than adding to the tone. Boflecks write fine, clever dialogue, and their greatest gift is their ability to work with actors, both professional and untrained, but in each of their films they have come off as craftsmen, plying their trade through well-made, clean, efficient films, rather than as artists, taking risks and daring their audiences to experience something new. There films are good, never great, and as long as you don’t expect more, you will not be disappointed by It’s Kind of a Funny Story.



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