It’s not very often that people take the time to explore the mind of a teenager and it’s even less frequent that this exploration takes place on the Silver Screen. In the current cultural climate, teenagers are nearly an endangered species; 1.6 million are homeless, and those fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads face daily struggles with bullying, body image, sexual predators, and the intense stress of a failing educational system. Even, or maybe especially, those of privilege, who come from stable homes and elite educational institutions are crippled by an overwhelming expectation to succeed.
In It’s Kind of a Funny Story Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is one of the latter: a white, upper class, sixteen-year-old whose anxiety level is so unbearable that he checks himself into a psychiatric ward out of fear that he may commit suicide. Merely moments after being committed, Craig is faced with the reality of his decision—a schizophrenic wanders the halls shouting, his roommate hasn’t left his bed for weeks, and hospital policy requires Craig stay for a minimum of five days. Except for the presence another young patient, Noelle (played by the charming Emma Roberts), Craig is certain he doesn’t belong there. Yet, over the course of a school week, Craig receives an alternate education in life, love, and self-discovery. And believe it or not, it is kind of a funny story.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, have an exceptional ability for constructing emotionally vibrant stories that focus on what are often perceived to be deviant relationships. In 2006’s award-winning Half Nelson, the duo chronicled the cathartic friendship between a meth-addicted middle school teacher and his adolescent student. It’s Kind of a Funny Story also utilizes this dynamic to further explore the invisible barrier between youth and adults when Craig befriends Bobby (Zack Galifianakis), a fellow patient more than twice his age. And just as Half Nelson created a space for the unheard voices of addicts and inner city youth, It’s Kind of a Funny Story breaks the silence of another pair of marginalized groups: teenagers and the mentally ill.
Gilchrist is effectively genuine in portraying Craig’s awareness of his inner turmoil while lacking the ability to articulate it. Instead of weighing down the script with gratuitous dialogue, the film journeys into Craig’s mind through the use of flashback, animation, and one kick-ass rock ‘n roll fantasy. Though his role in The Hangover has practically guaranteed Galifianakis a career as the peculiar yet hilarious sidekick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story offers the North Carolina School of the Arts alum an opportunity to transcend typecasting and delve into a more nuanced and dimensional character. Galifianakis nails it. Without saying a word, he has the ability to be both hilarious and touching while offering Craig a chance to do what he was unable to on the outside: just live. Free from confines of parental expectations and a highly competitive peer group, Craig liberates not only himself, but those around him.
Ultimately, the lesson in this film is one of perspective. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a heartfelt reminder that even flawed adults can be role models and the minds of the youth are worth inhabiting.
Cross-posted at Elevate Difference