Mental Mentor

Thanks to Zach Galifianakis, this film's kind of a funny story

Zach Galifianakis is seemingly in every movie designed to make you laugh these days. On top of his co-starring duties in the excellent HBO series Bored to Death, the man has done nine films in two years. Maybe he realized the world was taking note after The Hangover, and he chose to capitalize by working his ass off.

Surprisingly, I'm not even close to being sick of him yet.

With It's Kind of a Funny Story, Zach spreads his wings and starts showing off his dramatic abilities. As Bobby, a mental-ward patient who is acting as a mentor to young Craig (Keir Gilchrist), he gets plenty of laughs, but manages to be quite moving in the heavier scenes. He can handle the emotional stuff, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in straight-up dramatic roles in the near future.

The film focuses on Craig, a depressed high school student who fantasizes about jumping off of a bridge. School is tough; he's got a crush on his best friend's girl; and he projectile-vomits when anxiety rears its ugly head. Taking his suicidal tendencies seriously, he checks into a hospital and finds himself in the adult mental ward, because the teen wing is being renovated.

He initially meets Bobby in the emergency room, and Bobby chastises Craig for hanging around in a hospital instead of "bird-dogging chicks." He becomes the kid's friend, showing Craig the ropes and helping guide him toward happier waters. Of course, Bobby is in the ward because of his own personal problems, which we learn about slowly. The richly written character allows Galifianakis to show some raw power; he throws tantrums with the best of them.

Gilchrist, who went to the Galifianakis School of Complicated and Hard-to-Spell Screen Names, is also impressive. He's sort of like a combo of Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman as they were 10 years ago. I also enjoyed Emma Roberts as Craig's hospital love interest.

Come to think of it, Craig has a pretty good time at the mental hospital. I'm thinking his character might inspire people to commit themselves so they can troll for dates. Perhaps this is not a good thing.

Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan make decent contributions as Craig's bemused parents. The screenplay doesn't depict them as especially negligent or cruel, just a little oblivious. Jeremy Davies, who I couldn't have loved more on TV's Lost, is reduced to next-to-nothing status as a guy Craig passes in the hallway sometimes.

The movie owes plenty to films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, although while Cuckoo's Nest featured electroshock and lobotomies, this one features arts and crafts, music time and comedic vomiting. The Galifianakis character jokes that he is on vacation at one point—and that actually could be true if you added drinks with umbrellas and lounge singers (and excluded the vomiting part).

The film was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who also split duties on the excellent Half Nelson. While the movie is enjoyable, it's not quite on par with that Ryan Gosling vehicle. In fact, without the presence of Galifianakis, this one might've qualified as a near-miss.

As it stands, It's Kind of a Funny Story gets by on endearing performances—and the chance to see Galifianakis expand his horizons. Sure, his character makes committing himself to a mental ward look like an excuse for mischievous camaraderie and pizza parties, but a truly realistic film on this subject matter would be box-office poison.


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