By: Addison Wylie
Being a big fan of directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck as well as being a huge fan of Zach Galifianakis, I was greatly interested in It’s Kind of a Funny Story from the get-go. The two directors were the driving force behind a festival favorite in 2006 named Half Nelson, with Fleck directing, and Galifianakis has been a standout act with his film roles and with his comedy. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a change of pace for both parties. The film is more on the serious side and unlike the slapstick comedies Galifianakis has starred in. The film also acts as a stepping stone towards a more mainstream audience for the directorial duo. In the end though, what matters is whether the film is any good. And is it? Well, that’s the funny thing because It’s Kind of a Funny Story is just kind of a good movie but suffers major flaws in its writing and pacing.
Craig, played by Keir Gilchrist, is a troubled young man. With having realistic dreams of suicidal thoughts, dealing with the fact that his friends are changing, and that his parents are stressing him out in regards to school and his future, Craig becomes freaked out when one of his dreams seems almost too real. Without hesitation, Craig bikes over to the closest psychiatric ward and checks himself in. It’s here where Craig thinks he belongs; where his thoughts will relax with ease. When he discovers that there are other people with much more serious problems in the ward, Craig realizes that being in an adult psychiatric ward may not be the right fit for him just yet. It’s to his surprise that once patients check in, they must stay in the ward for at least a week where doctors can examine Craig and figure out whether he should be reintroduced to the outside life. During his visit, Craig meets Bobby, played by Galifianakis, a down-on-his-luck divorced father, and Noelle, played by Emma Roberts, a suicidal girl around Craig’s age who has an eclectic musical opinion. The film is also based on a novel of the same name written by Ned Vizzini.
This film is the definition of uneven. Boden and Fleck, who also wrote the screenplay, can write characters extremely well but here they have a hard time balancing the content with the pace. The film itself is sluggishly slow with long winded scenes of Craig talking to psychiatrists about how his thoughts materialize and how he feels he’s growing as a person. Just when the audience begins to face the fact that the film is married to the drawn out pace, we get a quirky scene of what’s going on inside Craig’s head. The tempo literally kicks into high gear with montages that feel like they were conceived from a Wes Anderson film. The montages contain lots of quick cuts and flashy cinematography and editing. These sequences stand out and are creative and funny but they only last so long. When the sequences reach their end, the film abruptly changes back into its previous painstakingly slow pace. It also doesn’t help that the film calls for text cards reminding it’s audience what day it is in the film. The experience watching this movie felt like I’d been watching it for days as I sat in a theatre watching each day unhurriedly play for its audience. With that said, I haven’t read the book so these cards may have been called for in the writing. If that’s the case, Boden and Fleck needed to work on picking up the pace between those title cards. There’s content here that could’ve been sped up while keeping the main meat of the story. Another flaw the movie suffers from but the book may have called for is with the narrator. Craig narrates the story during moments in the film; explaining how he really feels about each situation he’s thrown in. This is a problem for me because the character of Craig is very whiny and doesn’t make a great protagonist. Again, the book may call for an obnoxious hero but Gilchrist plays the role on such an irritable note, that it’s hard for me to care for him. On top of that, hearing his unenthused, critical voice explain to me how he feels, even though I can pull his emotions from the scene, makes the narration unnecessary and annoying.
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However, with all these problems aside, Boden and Fleck are able to balance drama with pitch back humor. The lines delivered during the scene where Craig first checks himself into the ward are said with such a deadpan tone, that it adds another layer of humor. This deadpan delivery is apparent throughout the film. Galifianakis steals every scene he’s in; addressing each character and expressing his dialogue with a straight face. Even though audiences may think he’s doing the same awkward schtick they’ve seen him do comedically in films like The Hangover, Zach is able to drain the cuteness out of the character and build his character with authenticity. Audiences are able to feel his pain but are also able to connect with his observational humor. Roberts also is a stand out here. Roberts portrays her outgoing character with hints of shyness and mystery. These characteristics make us want to know her detailed background to a point where we want Craig to spend more time with her so that we can find out more. It’s a performance that is very subtle in its goals to involve the audience and, thus, Roberts is very affective and charming. The supporting characters are also people I found myself wanting to see more of. Smitty, played by Jeremy Davies, is an employee at the ward and has limited screen time. However, he is able to make the most out of his sparse lines and is able to incorporate mannerisms that stick with us. It’s a character who is instantly engaging as soon as we meet him. There’s also a very strong supporting performance by Jim Gaffigan who plays Craig’s father, George. Gaffigan delivers each line with the aforementioned deadpan style but adds tidbits of cynicism that make his presence very prominent
As a stepping stone towards a mainstream audience, this is a step in the right direction for Boden and Fleck. Not a strong step but a step nonetheless. I still think they are very strong directors in the sense that they are able to extract detailed performances from their actors. I’m also not going to write them off writing-wise due to the dialogue between patients being very sharp. Maybe the flaws lie with the source material. Maybe it just wasn’t a film that was fit for a feature film adaptation. As someone who strictly just saw the movie and didn’t read the source material, there seems to be a lot to cover and perhaps the directorial duo couldn’t manage fitting in every detail. Nonetheless, the film still suffers from major pacing issues and a lead performance that I didn’t feel was involving enough. However, the rest of the cast is energetic and can read their lines perfectly. Match that with reinforced characters and, in the end, you get a film that is mighty in certain areas but ultimately doesn’t reach that bar of being exceptional.