Keir Gilchrist as Craig
Zach Galifianakis as Bobby
Emma Roberts as Noelle
Viola Davis as Dr. Minerva
Zoë Kravitz as Nia
Thomas Mann as Aaron
Lauren Graham as Lynn
Jim Gaffigan as George
Jeremy Davies as Smitty
Aasif Mandvi as Dr. Mahmoud
We've all been there: tough pressures at school/work, family at home who don't entirely understand, and friends you can't explain it to without feeling weird. It's called being a teenager. (Sometimes it's called being an adult, too). Most of us just muddle through those years, eventually gaining up the perspective to put those feelings in their proper place. Young Craig (Keir Gilchrist) has decided to take a shortcut by committing himself to the local psychiatric ward for observation.
Ken Kesey is probably rolling over in his grave somewhere, but once you get past the faux-psychiatry trappings, "It's Kind of a Funny Story" isn't a bad little comedy.
Based on Ned Vizzini's not quite so funny story, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's ("Half Nelson") adaptation is more of a light teen fantasy wrapped up in the patina of drama, but the fact that it doesn't dwell on its darker aspects actually makes the shallowness easier to take.
In the world of Boden and Fleck's film, a New York psychiatric ward is more of a quirky rest home than a place for the wildly erratic, overly-medicated mentally ill. And who knows, maybe it is, though somehow I doubt any psyche ward you'd actually want to visit is anything like a real psyche ward. It's not important for the film to find out – it's more about making the distinction between a young man's perception of having a difficult life and what having a difficult life is actually like.
Because if there are any true things about being a teenager, it's that every teenager feels at some point that 1) life is just unbearably depressing and stressful and 2) they are the only people who have ever felt this way. Boden and Fleck gently take the air out of this particular trope in a way any adult viewer will recognize and any teenage viewer will probably ignore.
Craig, like a lot of kids his age, doesn't realize how good he's got it. He has loving, if distracted family, good friends and real talent. He's actually quite a gifted artist. But it's hard to focus on what we've got going for us, what we've got against us is usually a lot more appealing. In Craig's case that's the girl of his dreams dating his best friend, high educational expectations from his parents and the stress that he's not going to be good enough to achieve anything he or they want. Craig quickly begins to gain some perspective on his problems when, after checking into the local psyche ward, he quickly learns that he can't as easily leave.
The more you think about it the sillier it gets, but the directors are good at keeping the audience distracted with charming performances from their ensemble and genuine wit in their script.
"It's Kind of a Funny Story" is often just what it says on the tin, kind of funny, never laugh-out-loud raucous, but it's also never boring. The blandest member of the cast is unfortunately Craig, both in conception and execution, but the filmmakers are canny enough to realize this and keep him constantly surrounded by a quirky cast who never belittle their situation.
Zach Galifianakis shows some real dramatic promise as an actual suicide risk who decides to put his life back together and the only time Gilchrist really comes alive is in the presence of Emma Roberts as a young girl recovering from real emotional problems. Though what those problems are, we'll never know.
On the one hand, the filmmakers wisely keep from walling in angst and false and drama. On the other, they also ignore anything that could keep "It's Kind of a Funny Story" from being more than light comedy. It's too pat to be anything more than light entertainment but as light entertainment goes, it's not bad.