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Itís Kind of a Funny Story

True to its Title

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who wrote and directed Itís Kind of a Funny Story, broke onto the scene with the Sundance hit Half Nelson. They followed it up with the wonderful, but little seen, Sugar, chronicling the struggles of a Dominican trying to make it into Major League Baseball. Now, the pair is making its foray into comedy, although dramedy would be a more apt description.

Based on a novel of the same name, it feels like Boden and Fleck are jumping on the ďindie comedyĒ bandwagon rather than illustrating the originality that shined in Half Nelson and Sugar.

Perhaps owing to Sugarís very limited release, Boden and Fleck wanted to create something that was a bit more commercial. Ironically, itís more in the vein of (500) Days of Summer than a true blockbuster, but it fits with their indie mentality while having something more universal than Sugar.

Itís Kind of a Funny Story is far from a flop, but itís just painfully mediocre. What saves the film from drowning in mediocrity are the performances of lead Keir Gilchrist (United States of Tara) and, especially, Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), who shows a tender side rarely seen in his work. That said, itís more a triumph of Galifianakis to prove heís much more than a gifted comic ó heís a gifted actor.

The film is sort of a modern One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest, except where that film was a meditation on the politics of institutionalization, Itís Kind of a Funny Story delves into the depths of the contemporary, privileged teenager. Craig (Gilchrist) attends a prestigious business school in New York City, but finds the pressure to follow the path laid out by his father, friends, and society too much to handle.

Considering suicide, he gets himself admitted to a psychiatric ward. While in the ward he witnesses true mental instability via his fellow patients. He creates deep bonds through Bobby (Galifianakis) who becomes a sort of mentor and Noelle, another troubled teen.

The film succeeds in its performances. Itís cast very well, although the talented Jeremy Davies is oddly cast in a miniscule part. But it fails to really get rigorous enough to portray the true mental anguish Craig is going through. On the other hand, itís never quite as clever as it believes.

The film finds itself struggling to marry its dark subject matter with quirky comedy. The fact that it feels it needs to be ďquirkyĒ is an immediate problem. Infused with random animated sequences that are all the rage recently, it never feels genuine. The film never feels comfortable with itself and is constantly apologizing for the directions it takes. Ultimately, itís too self aware to really go anywhere.

Despite these misgivings, the talent of Boden and Fleck, and the cast, do shine through. But those hoping for another knockout like Half Nelson or Sugar will be disappointed.