Teen suicide is a delicate subject and one that requires acknowledgement, understanding and ideally, a strong system to help thwart it. Growing up is not what is used to be and the twenty-first century overwhelms with its hectic pace, ever-developing technology and effortless accessibility to the world. Essentially, the period between prepubescence and a responsibility-laden adulthood has shrunk to the extreme of being a very rushed job rather than the gradual, more coherent process it could be or once was. The system now demands a lot from the teenager and attacks from all directions and angles, be it school, social life, personal aspirations, relationships and family. Any teen unable to meet those demands is left in the dust and consequently, is susceptible to the depression and apathy that might result or worse of all, a desire to bring a permanent end to the grief.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story’s plot is of one such teenager. Sixteen-year old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) contemplates suicide and instead of going through with it, decides to check himself into a hospital and, inadvertently, is admitted to a psych ward where he meets patients Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and Noelle (Emma Roberts), along with a host of other vibrant characters with their own particular illnesses and idiosyncrasies.
Keir Gilchrist leads the cast and does exceptional work. He possesses an obvious innocence and vulnerability and slowly gains our sympathy, even if it is never fully disclosed as to exactly why Craig is suicidal or depressed. The script gives us several potential reasons, but none of them feel concrete or very believable and all are severely underdeveloped and come across as not being as substantial as they probably should. Craig believes himself suicidal enough to go to the hospital and ask for immediate treatment and yet, the issue never gets fully addressed almost as though the film is allergic to its core subject and instead we’re treated to the random, disjointed mental workings in Craig’s head, ones that are often good for a chuckle, but have very little to do with his growth as a character. Consequently, the film is at times a very self-indulgent affair that thankfully, becomes less so, once the other characters’ stories become of greater importance.
Supporting players, Roberts and Galifianakis, fit their endearing parts comfortably, as Craig’s love interest and his personal Yoda, respectively. Roberts is a natural and has been an interesting actress to watch since joining the family business. She appears to take her craft seriously and with more distinctive parts in films like Funny Story and last year’s Lymelife, she has escaped being confined to tween roles and paved her way to becoming a reliable and serious thespian.
The rest of the supporting cast is colorful and entertaining and compensates for the plot’s refusal to scrutinize its primary issue more fully. Even when the film does not approach the level of earnestness that is necessary for a problem as glaring as teen suicide and teenage depression, the films delights with enough awkward silences and laughs to keep us from falling asleep.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a breezy, surreal and at times charming piece of cinema, but if you’re looking for an in depth examination of depression and/or mental illness, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest this is not. Gilchrist, Galifianakis, and Roberts all bring their unique approaches to the material and the result is a harmonic clash of style and comedy. While the film’s middle-of-the-road attitude about its subject is frustrating and perplexing, it also sheds a little, if not some, much-needed light on a topic that is fast becoming more problematic in today’s world. The solution begins with firm recognition and this movie and others like it afford us, at least, with a plodding introduction to a sensitive issue.