IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY
(director/writer: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden; screenwriter: based on the novel by NedVizzini; cinematographer: Andrij Parekh; editor: Anna Boden; music: Broken Social Scene; cast: Keir Gilchrist (Craig), Zach Galifianakis (Bobby), Emma Roberts(Noelle), Lauren Graham (Lynn), Jim Gaffigan (George), Dana De Vestern (Alyssa), Aasif Mandvi (Dr. Mahmoud), Zoë Kravitz (Nia), Jeremy Davies (Smitty), Thomas Mann (Aaron), Viola Davis (Dr. Eden Minerva), Bernard White (Muqtada); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Kevin Misher/Ben Browning; Focus Features; 2010)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The writer-director team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden(“Sugar”) show their featured mental patients as filled with the same family-like camaraderie over their common problems like exhibited in the 1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but fail to channel anything else about that pic into their story. This crowd-pleasing artificially sweetened cutesy story tells of a brief stay in an adult psych ward for a suicidal Brooklyn residing stressed-out sweet 16-year-old named Craig (Keir Gilchrist). The pic, based on the novel by NedVizzini, was hardly funny or poignant like Milos Forman’s film. Instead it offered a superficial and hokey look at mental illness that doesn’t have the wherewithal to probe with any depth the difference between the trivial teen angst over school pressure and the more compelling story of long-time mental illness exhibited by the charismatic adult patient Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), a homeless single father suffering from severe depression, who takes Craig under his wing.
Craig is frightened that he will be rejected by a prestigious summer school program and that his overachieving best friend Aaron (Thomas Mann) is dating the girl he has a crush on, Nia (Zoë Kravitz). After a nightmare of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, Craig calls the suicide hotline and follows their advice to go to E.R. There he talks the harried doctor (Aasif Mandvi) into checking him into a mental hospital and soon learns he has to stay for a minimum of five days. Wanting only a pep talk and some pills, Craig spends his next five days relating to the group of stereotyped nutty disturbed adult patients, picking up support from his kind-hearted wise doctor (Viola Davis) and finding a romantic interest in the self-destructive suicidal pretty teen patient Noelle (Emma Roberts). With life lessons easily absorbed in his brief stay, Craig returns home to his supportive but clueless parents (Lauren Graham & Jim Gaffigan) and his genius little sister (Dana De Vestern). Craig is also set to return to his special high school for the gifted, where academic pressure is a given, but with a new energy to succeed without getting stressed-out.
The film is dishonest and leaden, as it lacks a realistic look at the mentally ill despite its good intentions. It ends with an oversimplified feel-good payoff, that felt laughable (not in a funny way, but a sad way). The cuddly safe antidotes it prescribes for depression and its clueless look at the mentally ill and that it keeps the dark side out of its story, only leaves us wondering where the filmmakers are coming from. It’s a mental health break story about a well-cared for privileged teen having the shakes because he went off his Zoloft, that never get around to showing why Craig’s problem is so urgent.When challenged to tell the professional caregivers why he’s so screwed up, Craig wildly attributes his depression “to war, the failing economy, and environmental uncertainty.” I guess that’s supposed to be the funny part of the film.
REVIEWED ON 11/27/2010 GRADE: C