Movies about psychiatric ward patients are usually equal parts exploitative and inspirational. From “The Snake Pit” to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to “Girl, Interrupted,” we are encouraged to see the patients as outcasts from a society too sane – too emotionally straitjacketed – to accommodate them.
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” based on the semiautobiographical novel by Ned Vizzini, is the latest variant on this sentimentalism. Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) is a bright, severely stressed-out 16-year-old Brooklyn boy who checks himself into a mental health clinic. Because the youth ward is temporarily closed, he finds himself in the adult ward, where one of the patients, the spacey, sarcastic Bobby (a very good Zach Galifianakis) becomes his mentor and confidante, without ever entirely fessing up about his own life.
Craig’s overbearing parents (played by Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan) are highlighted as the prime reason for his predicament. This is standard in a genre in which parents are routinely made out to be the bad guys. Craig also finds himself attracted to the shy, frail Noelle (Emma Roberts), and for a while it looks as if we’re going to be subjected to a new-style version of “David and Lisa.”
But Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the film’s co-writing-directing team, are too principled to tip the film into the slacker reaches of sorrow. Even though the various patients too often come across as cutesy case studies, Fleck and Boden for the most part avoid working their lives up into some grand-scale “Cuckoo’s Nest”-style microcosm of humanity. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material, and language.)
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