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Zach Galifianakis, Keir Gilchrist

Zach Galifianakis, Keir Gilchrist in

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" | a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

I think the reason they use "kind of" in the title of this film, "It's Kind of a Funny Story," is because the fun that's made of most of the people in it are mentally disturbed. But there isn't a mean-spirited bone to be found anywhere in the script, written by the film's directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. I'd venture a guess that Anna and Ryan are nicer than they're funny.

Both natives of Berkeley, California, Boden and Fleck took their script from a recent novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini. He based the book on his brief hospitalization for depression. Vizzini has essays with an interesting title, "Teenage Angst? Naah…" Then came his first novel, "Be More Chill."

To say that "Funny Story" is kind of like "Harold and Maude," and "They Might Be Giants," with a dash of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" thrown in, could be a little misleading. Nobody in "Funny Story" goes to funerals of people they don't know, no one thinks he's Sherlock Holmes and, thank God, no one named McMurphy is lobotomized. But the heart written into this kind of strangely-paced comedy about a suicidal 16-year-old boy is bigger than all get out: just like the three films I compare it to.

Keir Gilchrist of Showtime's "The United States of Tara" plays Craig. He checks himself into a mental ward after coming close to taking a dive into oncoming traffic from the upper span of a bridge. The kid's depressed and confused about what's going on around him, and what his future might be.

His mom and dad are innocuous enough, even though dad (played by comedian Jim Gaffagan) is really leaning on him to get into that so smart private school Craig could probably slip into with ease: as Senator Al Franken's Stuart Smalley would allow, "I'm smart enough." Then, in his current school, there's the hot girl played by Lenny Kravitz' daughter, Zoë. Craig's been giving her too much brain time and there's the competition he faces with winning the svelte Nia, along with turning-in a savvy application that will lead a sure-fire acceptance at the totally cool prep school. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

Zoë Kravitz Emma Roberts

Zoë Kravitz

Emma Roberts

The hospital's 3-North is reminiscent of the ward Jack Nicholson endured once upon a time, but no Nurse Ratched roams these halls. Conditions get more Ken Keseyian with a spate of psychological disconnections seen in the patients Craig meets: enough so as not to surprise anyone that Harold and Maude might show up at 3-North for observation. It gets really kind of funny in a kind of gentle and, most of all, healing way.

Leader of this wacky pack isn't named McMurphy, but Bobby (played by Zach Galifianikis, "The Hangover," "Up in the Air"). It's in the ER where Craig initially enters the hospital early on a Sunday when he meets Bobby, who's dressed in doctors' scrubs. Bobby ain't no physician, and the only reason he's down in the ER, at the time, is because "the ER has the freshest coffee."

Bobby, who's also in 3-North, but for more than one suicide try, and loaded with big-time family troubles with his wife and young daughter (seen only once and briefly in the movie) introduces Craig to the rest of the inmates of this Keseyian funny farm less intense.

Significant among the cast are Noelle (Emma Roberts); 3-North shrink, Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis, "Doubt," "Solaris") and Smitty (Jeremy Davies, "Secretary," "Solaris"), who's on staff, always wearing his cool little hat, lending support in the ward. Two other patients with brief appearances are an unstable Jewish guy named Solomon (Daniel London) and a depressed Egyptian man called Muqtada (Bernard White). Both characters are an important part of a special scene having to do with music for the 3-North patient pizza party. Be tuned-in for that.

A spark fires between Craig and Noelle, a young gal who, in her past, has put sharp objects to her epidermis. She's attracted to Craig even though the non-hospitalized Nia stirs trouble when the self-centered girl drops by the ward to visit Craig.

Viola Davis

Viola Davis

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" has lots of hip laughs all the way. "Suicide is Painless" would play well on the ward speaker system. 3-North's mood is light, even if several folks in it are on "shaky ground." The narrative, as do the other films I compare it to, here, makes the most of how bonding within a small group or just two or three people can lift the spirits of the demoralized and ordinary.

Viola Davis' Dr. Minerva is a rock among the flailing on 3-North. It's great to see Ms. Davis using her solid talent as a professional with authority. Strength and compassion show in her big, beautiful eyes as she runs groups sessions with the 3-North bunch or puts on her one-on-one therapy sneakers for Craig.

Clearly, sitting through this kind of a quite good movie, it becomes more apparent that "It's Kind of a Funny Story" might work out to be, for troubled and suicidal teens who see it, good therapy to soak up in order to forge on back out into a world that's changed so much from when I was living my life between the ages of 13 and 20.

Tip o' the hat to Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, he directing, also, seven episodes of the impressive HBO series, "In Treatment." Thanks go to both for bringing more substance to teen comedy.

What time does "M*A*S*H" come on, Mr. Gelbart?

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" official site.

Now in limited release. See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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