Zach, the movie maniac
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Zach Galifianakis is in nearly every movie designed to make you laugh being released nowadays. On top of his costarring duties in the excellent HBO series Bored to Death, the man has done nine films in two years. It’s like 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.
As Bobby in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Galifianakis spreads his wings a little bit and starts showing off his dramatic abilities. He gets plenty of laughs but manages to be quite moving in the heavier scenes. Bobby is a mental ward patient and mentor to Craig (Keir Gilchrist), a young man dealing with some troubles. No doubt, Galifianakis can handle the emotional stuff, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in straight-up dramatic roles in the near future.
The focus of the film is on Craig, a depressed high school student who dreams and fantasizes about jumping off a bridge. School’s 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 to guide him towards happier waters. Of course, Bobby is in the ward for his own personal problems, which we learn about slowly. The richly written character allows Galifianakis to go a few layers down and show some truly raw power. He throws tantrums with the best of them.
Gilchrist, who clearly went to the Galifianakis school of complicated and hard to spell screen names, is pretty 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 damned good time at the mental hospital. His character might inspire people to go 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. The sometimes-reliable 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 that film did allow itself to delve into the ugly side of mental problems and being institutionalized. 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 umbrella drinks and lounge singers and excluded the vomiting part.
The film was written and directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who also split duties on the quite excellent Half Nelson. While this 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, including that chance to see Galifianakis expand his horizons. Sure, his character makes committing thyself 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.