Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's a mildly amusing kind of movie

Buddies in the mental ward.

Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have a small but impressive track record. In 2008, they released Sugar, a well-received movie about a Dominican pitcher trying to make it in the Big Leagues. Half Nelson, an equally lauded Brooklyn-based butt-kicker about a drug addicted junior high school teacher, hit theaters in 2006. It may seem more than little odd to claim that this talented duo has had to travel to a mental hospital to lighten up, but that's pretty much how it is.

Hey, everyone's entitled to the occasional change of pace, no?

Based on a novel by Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, tells the story of a high-school kid who’s admitted to a New York mental hospital when he threatens to kill himself. Once in the hospital, young Craig (an appealing Keir Gilchrist) recognizes that he may have gotten more than he bargained for. Turns out, Craig's not nearly as disturbed as some of his fellow patients.

During the course of his brief commitment, Craig meets a variety of characters who provide color and humor, most notably Noelle (Emma Roberts), an attractive teen-ager who takes an immediate liking to him, and Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), an adult patient who tries to boost Craig’s sagging moral.

Wisely, It’s Kind of a Funny Story doesn't try to turn mental illness into a metaphor for social imprisonment. Many of the people in this institution need to be treated, and the ward's psychiatrist is played by the gifted Viola Davis sans cliches. I'm not entirely sold on Galifianakis (The Hangover), but It’s Kind of a Funny Story occasionally allows him to veer away from the comic intensity that has marked much of his previous work.

It’s Kind of A Funny Story, has been made with a decidedly light touch, and should qualify as a passing amusement for those who can tolerate its off-kilter brand of humor. Just as impressive: It's sense of invention -- employing a bit of animation, for example -- isn't pushed down our throats.

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