Film >One flew over the rainbow
In their feature-film debut, 2006’s Half Nelson, writer-director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck observed addiction with a high-minded yet thoroughly relatable eye. With Sugar two years later, they attempted a similar treatment of the traditional sports-movie trope to plodding, clichéd effect. Now, with their new film, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, a mouthful of a title that has little to do with the film itself, Boden and Fleck seem to have dropped artistically drawn moral aspiration entirely in favor of a glossy, surface-level charmer about a privileged kid who considers suicide, checks himself into a mental hospital and learns that he’s, well, a privileged kid.
That makes it sound worse than it is – Funny Story is actually a step up from Sugar. By choosing not to dig deeper into the psyche of a 16-year-old boy who has fits of “stress vomit,” and to focus instead on the wacky cast of characters surrounding him, including Zach Galifianakis as a more grounded patient who serves as a mentor to young Craig (Keir Gilchrist, a Justin Long lookalike with just as many annoying stage tricks), the filmmakers deliver the lightest Cuckoo’s Nest imaginable.
The film begins with some narrative force as Craig, pushed to the brink by his overachiever status and the realization that he hasn’t overachieved nearly enough to compete with his friends or his friend’s beautiful girlfriend, considers jumping off a bridge one Sunday night. Having come to his senses, he checks himself in at the hospital for observation, only to find that the minimum period for that kind of thing is five days. As he settles in, he encounters a crusty, bedridden roommate, a schizophrenic, a transvestite and a cute cutter played by former Nickelodeon starlet Emma Roberts.
Galifianakis takes him under his wing, and points out to Craig that he’s actually pretty cool. “Cool Craig,” he calls him. Galifianakis’ performance is an endearing one; he taps into his Hangover persona just enough to provide some comic relief here and there, but it’s his settled, slightly melancholy state that really brings out his empathetic side. It’s a good look on him that suggests he could have a bit of Robin Williams going for him.
The rest of the film goes through the motions, sprinkled with excessive narration, a fun musical number and 500 Days of Summer-esque animated breaks that add nothing to the story. There’s even a matte-painted sunset awaiting Craig and his new “no place like home” attitude at the end. When a film seems to aspire to be nothing more than a more lighthearted take on Sandra Bullock’s 28 Days, you’re dealing with a dangerously fluffy concoction.