06 October 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Written & Directed by: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
Full credits at IMDb

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, based on Ned Vizzini’s YA novel, is Fleck and Boden’s Cyrus: a thoroughly mainstream comedy adorned with the indie trappings that gave the directors their name. The Brooklyn-based couple used to thrive off of subverting clichés. In their debut, Half Nelson, ostensibly an inner-city school movie, a white teacher is addicted to crack, and depends upon one his black students to pull him through it. In their follow-up, Sugar, they turned a baseball story into an immigrant story, transforming a film about the country’s old pastime into a story about the New America. With this, their latest, they have made a coming-of-age, sometimes-romantic comedy set in a psychiatric hospital. Period.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is packed full of clichés, taken from Cuckoo’s Nest through the weekend’s latest generic rom-com. Keir Gilchrist stars as a shallowly depressed teen, off his meds and possibly suicidal, who checks himself into a mental ward and realizes he’s in over his head. While he suffers from the ordinary pressures of adolescence—awkwardness, loneliness, the competitiveness of exclusive schools—he’s now locked in with bona fide schizos and other real deal lunatics, including one played by Zach Galifanakis, whose impeccable ability to take subdued offense over minor slights supplies much of the film’s arid wit. But for every one of the movie’s lovingly crafted detail (like the scenes intermittently interrupted by screaming schizos) there’s another eye-rolling one, like the in-patient love interest in the Stooges tee, name-dropping Salvador Allende. Don’t get me started on the glam-rock fantasy sequence, lip-synched to (groan) Queen’s “Under Pressure”.

Fleck and Boden supply a few likably nativist touches for textural color: the rapid mini-portraits of real-life students at Executive Pre-Professional, reminiscent of Half Nelson’s student interviews; the detour to Williamsburg’s Hasidic acid scene; and, my favorite, the Super 8 tour of Brooklyn’s Western corridor, from Coney Island to Brooklyn Heights, Bay Ridge to the Brooklyn Bridge. But then there’s the way they expose the habits of the city’s wealthy classes—how they invent problems to supply their insignificant-seeming lives with the appearance of meaning—only to validate them, ultimately. During his five-day stint in a wellness program—the script pokes fun at the idea that one could get well in five days, but buys into it just the same—Gilchrist learns to, like, appreciate life, and stuff: that he should live freely, in a way that costs a lot of money. (Make art and travel!) Gee, wouldn’t that be nice? What a bunch of brats; Fleck and Boden should know better. Grade: C+

Watch the trailer:

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