Movie Review: It's Kind of a Funny Story
By Matthew Huntley
October 19, 2010
One Sunday morning at 5 a.m., he rides his bike to a New York City hospital and asks to be admitted into the psychiatric ward because he’s afraid he’ll hurt himself. He beseeches the doctor and hopes he’ll be given something right away to make his mental anguish and anxiety go away. But Craig fails to realize it’s not so easy. It’s only after he sees the mental ward that he wants to leave and thinks his coming was a mistake. Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis) says he has to stay the minimum five days before he can be released, which gives him just enough time to hear some conventional life lessons and make friends with the other colorful patients.
The first is Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), who suffers from anger management and has trouble keeping his life together for his eight-year-old daughter. He gives Craig a tour and introduces him to Johnny (Adrian Martinez) and Humble (Matthew Maher), though their problems aren’t as apparent as others’. Noelle (Emma Roberts) is another suicidal patient who’s, whaddya know, just about Craig’s age. Although Emma Roberts is a fine actress, her role here is limited to the inevitable love interest and her character doesn’t go much further than that
Other patients include a schizophrenic (Lou Myers) who’s always yelling out random phrases; a woman nicknamed The Professor (Novella Nelson) who grew incessantly paranoid because of the Patriot Act; and a Jewish man (Daniel London) who took so much acid in one helping he now asks everybody to keep it down. Craig also has an Egyptian roommate named Muqtada (Bernard White), who hasn’t left his room in weeks (you get no credit if you think he’ll leave the room before Craig’s five days is up).
I know what you’re thinking, but this movie isn’t trying to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (how could it?); although it does seem inspired by it. What it lacks is an original edge and biting humor. Even though the characters are sweet and likable, the screenplay doesn’t provide them terribly interesting things to say and it hardly goes outside the scope of dialogue we expect to hear in a movie about a teenager staying in a mental hospital. As interesting as Craig’s situation is, the movie doesn’t take it anywhere new or exciting. It plays things too safely and I think the filmmakers thought they could get by on their theme and message alone, without writing in unique scenes that might have let the movie to stand out.
For instance, there is a blown opportunity when Craig must sing in front of the other patients, but rather than have Craig actually perform, the movie cuts to a fantasy sequence where he and the others are dressed as rock stars. Why not have the audacity and courage to show the real actors trying to sing instead of dressing them up and dubbing their voices? I guarantee that would have made the scene come alive greater than it does. As it is, the scene is only adequate when it should have been revelatory. And while I won’t reveal what song they sing, couldn’t they have chosen something more original?
It’s Kind of a Funny Story has good intentions, and although its flaws are harmless and inoffensive, it lacks a definite style and purpose. It proceeds in ways we expect and have seen before when movie teenagers are in need of wisdom to guide them through their rough years. But that’s the problem: when you have a story about a suicidal teenager who checks himself into a mental hospital, the last thing we want is for it to unfold in ways we expect. Its nature alone should have inspired the filmmakers to make something more special and meaningful.