Zach Galifianakis hits dramedy tone in It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Films that deal with mental illness often take one of two paths: they go for light hearted comedy, joking about inappropriate outbursts or hallucinations, or they take the tragic route and focus on the ways mental illness can destroy families or shatter the lives of its victims. It’s Kind of a Funny Story combines these two tracks for an interesting story about friendship, love and coping with the pressures of life.
Main character Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is a clinically depressed teen who is seriously considering suicide when he checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a local hospital. The teen wing is undergoing renovations, so Craig mingles with adult patients who have problems more severe than his. He teams up with Bobby (the always amazing Zach Galifianakis) who serves as the social leader of the misfit group. Bobby gives Craig valuable advice—in that special Galifianakis way—about dealing with the pressure he’s put on himself to exceed all expectations and have an ideal future. He also advises Craig on how to chat up Noelle (Emma Roberts) another teen in the ward. During his mandatory five days in the facility, Craig learns valuable lessons from all the patients and finally sets out to do what he wants, not to endlessly try to please everyone around him.
The comedy primarily comes from Galifianakis, who is absolutely perfect for this role. His straight-faced bizarre behavior, overconfidence and undue leadership make him funny and interesting at the same time. Equally, he is able to bring a strong performance in the more dramatic moments, such as when Bobby discusses his failed life with Craig, telling Craig to open his eyes and see that his problems pale in comparison. Galifianakis’s ability to shift from funny to tragic captures the unstable nature of mental illness in a way that is both realistic and entertaining.
Vignettes and dream sequences in the film provide an added level of quality and show Craig’s progress in a way that is more amusing than just watching someone have a breakthrough when talking to a therapist. Once scene involving Craig participating in a musical rehabilitation session becomes an elaborate fantasy sequence featuring the ensemble cast performing “Under Pressure” in true David Bowie/Freddie Mercury glam fashion. Rather than just explaining that Craig is making progress, filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck show us the ways he’s coming along, which is far more rewarding for audiences.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a good dramedy because it’s both lighthearted and heavy in that indie fashion fueled by solid performances and talented writing/direction. The film deals with heavy subjects, like suicide, losing custody of children, social alienation and depression, in a way that is amusing, accessible and positive as opposed to dwelling on the darkness of those situations. Gilchrist shows audiences Craig’s journey from depression to confidence through subtleties in performance instead of obvious “I’ve learned something today” exposition and Galifiakis gives a fantastic performance that exemplifies the tone of the film.