Film & TV

"It's Kind of a Funny Story" Imagines the Nuthouse as a Hipster's Paradise

A film seemingly designed to get every New York City honors student punched in the face at college, It's Kind of a Funny Story chronicles a privileged Brooklyn high-schooler's supercool institutionalized mental-health break. Hot for his best friend's girlfriend, stressed out over an application to a prestigious summer school, and audaciously neglectful of his Zoloft, 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) commits himself to a psych ward after tepid fantasies of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge start warming. With this young-adult riff on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck at first glance seem far afield from the sociorealism of their previous features, Half Nelson and Sugar. But rather than a humorous departure from self-seriousness, It's Kind of a Funny Story doubles down, uniting broad comedy with leaden sloganeering for a super-sincere, tonally awry amusement tour of post-9/11 despair. We meet an eclectic community of colorful New Yorkers mentally challenged by modern living, from a Patriot Act paranoid to Craig's in-house father figure (Zach Galifianakis, taking his first step toward sad-clown legitimacy), who's caught in a cycle of unemployment, poverty, and rage. Meanwhile, our hero's stay in the nuthouse boosts his ego and affirms his entitlement, and in five short days, he learns that he's a master illustrator and a natural singer. "I used to think art was just bourgeois decadence," a wiser Craig says in the end, which is funny, because that's kind of what this film is.

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Eric Hynes