Beginning with a teen’s vision of a suicidal plunge off the Brooklyn Bridge and with all the ingredients for a self-pitying, narcissistic adolescent fantasy, It’s Kind of a Funny Story manages to be offhand. After a surreal overture, the narrator, Craig (Keir Gilchrist) talks his way into a psychiatric ward. He’s a wreck, largely thanks to his dad (Jim Gaffigan), who’s not particularly verbal but whose driving ambition for the boy won’t let up, and his best friend, who has somehow attained a 4.6-point grade average, as well as a relationship with the girl Craig adores.
Young Ned Vizzini’s novel is looser and crazier and funnier (he was a downstairs neighbor while all this was going on, but I had my own problems), but directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden supply a bit of real-life texture. Much of the focus is on the other patients. One is a girl who cuts herself who’s played by the impossibly pretty Emma Roberts, and her immediate rapport with Craig is enough to make most teenage males think about signing themselves into the local hospital. (Her character is a stretch.) But the one who dominates the movie is slobby, bearded Zach Galifianakis’s Bobby, who first appears to Craig in the emergency room waiting area dressed in a doctor’s white coat and scrubs.
Galifianakis is stunningly good. His Bobby describes himself as on vacation from the world — and this is something of a working vacation for Galifianakis, too. He slows himself down, takes a breather from his manic comedian persona, and allows something melancholy and bitter to emerge. His Bobby understands the pressure Craig is under to perform.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is too tidy and often too cute. What saves it is the directors’ soft sell. It’s not about breakthroughs, epiphanies, one-size-fits-all cures for depression. It’s about seeing one’s own confusion in a larger context and learning that misery really does love company.