When we come to the end of 2011, see if we don’t look back on January 7th as The Day When Movie Titles Lied. Last Friday, a menagerie of misnomers flooded into cinemas.
The Next Three Days is a film which takes place prior to the titular 72 hour span. 127 Hours only lasts 93 minutes. Season Of The Witch, without spoiling anything, is also a misnomer. And into this maelstrom of benevolent false advertising comes It’s Kind Of A Funny Story. Because it’s really not.
That’s not to say it is a bad story. It’s just not exactly the type of film you’d expect with that title, and Zach Galifianakis amongst the credits. Keir Gilchrist is Craig, a suicidal teenager who seeks help at a mental institution on a Sunday morning, hoping that all of his problems can be solved in time for school on Monday morning.
This fundamental misunderstanding of how mental health aid works leads to Craig inadvertently committing himself for a minimum stay of five days. Suffering from stress vomiting in addition to his serious self-esteem issues, Craig comes to put his problems in perspective as he meets various fellow patients over the course of his stay.
In his role as one of these patients, the most interesting thing about It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is that it’s something of a graduation for Zach Galifianakis. He ditches the man-child shtick in between Todd Phillips films to play a proper dramatic role for a change. He acquits himself pretty well.
We’re not talking as good as Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, or Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine, but he shows he has ability to dramatically work the makeshift mentor role. This, alongside a different kind of mental fragility, the kind that doesn’t necessarily inspire audiences to create Facebook groups named after his every line of dialogue, makes for interesting viewing.
The case with many of these films that involve the protagonist finding themselves and putting their problems into perspective, is that the eventual catharsis isn’t worth the effort it took to get there. Case in point, Eat Pray Love, and other recent much-maligned features along the same lines. There’s a danger of all the introspective gubbins actually alienating the audience in the final analysis, if we can’t actually relate to all of the prognosticating.
For his part, Gilchrist holds interest throughout in his portrayal of the troubled Craig. It’s especially worthy of mention when you consider how staid the elements in play actually seem. Look at the romantic side of the proceedings. The object of his affections is his best friend’s girlfriend, and she starts showing an interest just as he finds a connection with a ‘there all along’ female patient, played nicely by Emma Roberts.
However, whenever Craig sits down to do something recreational with his fellow patients, the film has this tendency to suddenly explode into life. In one instance, he begins drawing mind maps and his imagined architecture becomes an animated panoramic through a city made of watercolours and pencil. Later, we get a musical number, Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure.
Such non-sequiturs are largely there to distract from the fact that it’s kind of an adequate story rather than a funny one. There are jokes in here, but nothing that particularly made me laugh. Some of it made me smile, but there’s really nothing except the initial incredulous mirth that comes whenever a film like this suddenly bursts into a musical number.
It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is the kind of film that does have an audience, but it’s not as good as others in the quirky indie comedy subset it inhabits, like Little Miss Sunshine or Juno or (500) Days Of Summer, the level to which I think this one aspires. By all accounts, it’s a disappointment that it comes from the directors of Half-Nelson, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who’ve demonstrated more capability in previous works.
I doubt it’s going to linger in my memory for longer than a week, but it grew on me a little while I was watching it. It had to at some point, because it feels a lot longer than its 101 minutes. It’s certainly not the outright boring and awful mush of self-indulgence I was led to expect by certain reviews, but it only has the earnest acting efforts of Gilchrist, Roberts and Galifianakis to rescue it from obsolescence.
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