New comedy misses mark

By Drew Hunt

There was a time when Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the duo behind the 2006 film “Half Nelson,” were considered to be among the boldest and most daring young filmmakers in the country. The film was heralded as a masterpiece of sorts, with critics lauding its gritty realism and pensive tone.

Unfortunately, Fleck and Boden’s new film, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” is a veritable cream puff by comparison, wholly lacking in any kind of grit or realism.

It tells the story of a 15-year-old boy named Craig (Keir Gilchrist) who unwittingly checks himself into a mental hospital after calling a suicide hotline. During his five-day stay, he meets Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), a mentor of sorts.

Craig doesn’t have any outstanding mental issues. Rather, he’s merely an over-stressed adolescent with a case of the blues—school is hard, and the girl he likes doesn’t like him back.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the angst and uneasiness inherent in being a teenager. It’s a universal concept, and it’s hard to blame Fleck and Boden for opting to explore it.

However, Fleck and Boden lose credibility by essentially trivializing mental illness. Their film is spurious, cheesy and in some cases, irresponsible, as they ask the audience to find humor in the patients who are housed in the hospital. Frankly, it is difficult to see the jovial side of mental illness.

The impudence doesn’t end there—during his stay, Craig meets and falls for another patient around his age named Noelle (Emma Roberts), and their love blossoms amid patients who appear to have legitimate psychological problems.

Who knew mental hospitals were a good place to meet chicks?

Thematic shortcomings such as these suggest Fleck and Boden were much more interested in making a trendy film than a substance film. There are overt references to Vampire Weekend, and a piano rendition of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” plays over the film’s intended emotional climax.

The relationship between Craig and Noelle feels phony—absurdly romanticized to the point of suggesting mental illness is simply a matter of not getting the guy or girl you like, and it is cured once you meet someone equally “messed up” so you can fall in love and revel in each other’s vainglorious shortcomings.

Such erroneous sentimentalism leaves its mark throughout the film, and in spurts, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is downright painful to watch.

There’s a musical number halfway through the film that depicts the characters (the majority of who are, again, mental patients) rocking out to the wretchedly overused “Under Pressure,” fully decked out in glam-rock attire. It’s an atrocious scene, and one of many that speak to Fleck and Boden’s complete incomprehension of human behavior.

The film’s would-be saving grace comes in Galifianakis. He’s funny and charismatic as Bobby and his performance is about the only thing in the film that works, but it’s not enough to erase the many failings of Fleck and Boden.

Truly, this film is a complete 180 from “Half Nelson,” which handled the nature of addiction with gracefulness and cinematic flair. The heavy-handed buffoonery of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” bears no resemblance to that film or their second effort, the entertaining if underappreciated “Sugar.”