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★★★✩✩

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Starring Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Zach Galifianakis

Rated PG-13, now playing

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is exactly that: kind of funny.

Certainly a high school boy’s five-day experience in a psychiatric ward is not exactly conventional comedic material. At the start, Craig (Keir Gilchrist) enters a mental hospital after feeling the pressures from various sources: an elite high school and the drama surrounding college entrance, the expectations of his parents, and a long-time (unrequited) crush on his best friend’s girlfriend. Typical teenage angst, right? Not so much when the teenager in question proceeds to fantasize about jumping over the Brooklyn Bridge.

As the movie proceeds, subtle details make it clear that Craig’s problems are not all that common. We learn that Craig is intelligent and thoughtful, but this only seems to maximize his problems. He compares himself to Mozart, and resents the fact that he cannot do the same. Craig also occasionally resents his best friend, Aaron, who seems to perfectly balance his studies with an amazing social life.

The movie alternates between the hospital at which Craig stays and various smaller scenes that reflect what is occurring in Craig’s mind. For example, when Craig is asked to draw as part of therapy, we see a short snippet of what looks like a person’s imaginary sketch of a city, filled with buildings and moving cars. Later, when Craig is brought to sing with the other patients who play instruments, an overblown, 80’s-esque scene of the complete band playing replaces Craig’s real-life singing. The juxtaposition of these main stage scenes with inner landscape scenes dramatizes Craig’s hidden brilliance.

Craig finds love with Noelle, a girl at the psychiatric ward with an unclear past and cuts on her arms. Even though Craig’s relationship with Noelle is credible, however, Craig’s relationship with Bobby (Zak Galifianakis, The Hangover), a recently unemployed man and one of the sanest of the “crazies” at the hospital, is more meaningful. It is through Bobby that Craig is able to find optimism and sense in his mind: Bobby reminds Craig that he does take things too seriously and tells him that he would do anything to be Craig for just a day.

The movie is insightful and clever, and definitely has some unique moments. Keir Gilchrist, relatively new to cinema, brings freshness to his role. Zach Galifianakis demonstrates his versatility by successfully venturing away from his previous Hangover-type role. When the actors come together, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is not really about dealing with depression or overcoming adversity or stress; it’s about working with your mind, trying to make sense of things when the world — or maybe just your mind — is not under control. However, the movie ultimately lacks the emotional impact of other psych-ward dramas such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). It is quirky for sure, but the ending is all too clean and optimistic.