There are always those films that slip the cracks, and for me, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's "It's Kind of A Funny Story" is one of them. Arriving and disappearing from theaters in the blink of an eye last year,I can assuredly say that if I had seen it earlier, it would have surely ranked pretty high on my official list of the best of the year.
Fleck and Boden have amassed an incredible track record of piercing films, from the indie drama "Half Nelson" to the acutely moving minor league baseball saga known as "Sugar". So I suppose it really comes as no surprise that they hit another home run here with this modest, affectionate and sweetly engrossing film starring Keir Gilchrist as a somewhat depressed (but mostly stressed out) student who checks himself into a mental hospital and ends up helping everyone else more than himself. It all sounds horribly cliched, and there are a few moments of Wes Anderson-like whimsy in the first half that threaten to engulf the narrative, but "It's Kind of a Funny Story" also hits such high notes of honesty and cathartic energy between its characters that it comes off as something more.
And then comes this scene:
... and from there on I was hooked. Emma Roberts, the suicidal teenager who forms a relationship with Craig (Gilchrest), doesn't formulate a role full of nervous ticks or emo irrationality. It's a very human performance. And that's the real beauty of the film, which is based on the acclaimed autobiographical novel by Ned Vizzini. Even though the central setting is a mental ward and the jokes could be simple jabs at insanity, each charatcer is developed with warmth, humor and depth. There's the weird, but ultimately charming, way in which a fellow patient named Johnny (Adrian Martinez) whispers "Johnny don't phone kiss" at the end of a telephone call.... or the immense performance by Zach Galifianakis as the man who quickly befriends Craig. While the film never specifically spells out his troubles or the outcome of his problems, Galifianakis portrays Bobby as someone caught in the downward spiral of life with little idea of how to stop-gap the issues. Again, its a very human performance that displays humor, rage and complete understanding.
With a soundtrack by Broken Social Scene and Fleck/Boden's natural instinct for editing and camera movement- i.e. a glorious tracking shot down a hospital hallway as Gilchrest and Roberts try to find their way to the roof or a strong cut to her face as she blows away an eyelash he's just removed from her face- "It's Kind of a Funny Story" should not have gotten lost in the Holiday season rush last year. It's a distinct pleasure.