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.

It's Kind of a Funny Story
Rated PG-13 · 101 minutes · 2010
Official Site: focusfeatures.com/film/its_kind_of_a_funny_story
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Producer: Kevin Misher, Ben Browning, Jeremy Walker, Michael Maher, Peter Rawlinson and Patrick Baker
Cast: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Zoë Kravitz, Aasif Mandvi, Jeremy Davies, Karen Chilton, Jared Goldstein, Alan Aisenberg, Thomas Mann and Rosalyn Coleman

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What others are saying (11)

The Coast Halifax It’s Kind of a Funny Story sweetens the plot The earnest mental ward coming-of-age tale is more John Hughes than Nurse Ratched. by Tara Thorne 10/14/2010
Memphis Flyer Not So Much It’s Kind of a Funny Story has its charms but doesn’t earn its title. by Chris Herrington 10/07/2010
Boise Weekly The Projector: Movies opening Friday, Oct. 8 Ryan Reynolds buried alive (tragic!); Zach Galifianakis and Keir Gilchrist tell a funny story (kind of); Wes Craven makes you pray (and scream); a race (horse) against the odds; accidental parents (who are as cute as the baby they are now responsible for); Philip Seymour Hoffman's fear of water (and women) and a couple of very special screenings. It's all at the movies. 10/08/2010
8 more reviews...
Colorado Springs Independent Tears of a clown: It's Kind of a Funny Story Why does it always take so long for us to realize when talented comedians are more than just funny guys? by Scott Renshaw 10/07/2010
Portland Mercury Boy, Interrupted Going crazy with It's Kind of a Funny Story. by Ezra Ace Caraeff 10/07/2010
The Coast Halifax Learning with It's Kind of a Funny Story Grab onto this smart, funny coming-of-age film now. by Tara Thorne 10/21/2010
Charleston City Paper The fall 2010 book-to-movie preview Whether the result is good, like The Road, or absolutely horrible, like Ramona and Beezus, or just another dang adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, it's once again the season for filmmakers to turn a notable book into the next great (or terrible) film. Here are some of the lesser-known novels coming to your multiplex before year's end. (As always, release dates are subject to change.) by Scott Renshaw 09/08/2010
Colorado Springs Independent Now a major motion picture! From orphaned owlets to Fincher's Facebook, here's a fall preview of book-to-movie adaptations. by Scott Renshaw 09/09/2010
Boise Weekly It's A Funny Story and Jack Goes Boating Films about life, love and the whole damn mess. by George Prentice 10/06/2010
Colorado Springs Independent Opening this week Catfish, It's Kind of a Funny Story, Life As We Know It, The Tillman Story 10/07/2010
Indy Week Working things out in Funny Story It's Kind of a Funny Story reaches for an ironic, self-aware tone but doesn't transcend its young adult fiction origins. by David Fellerath 10/06/2010

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