The DC movie critic reviews It’s Kind of a Funny Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is one of the better movies I’ve seen in theaters in a long, long time. Zach Galifianakis is in it, which pretty much automatically means it’s, at the very least, decent. But more than just serving as a vehicle for Galifianakis’ talent, the film is well written, funny, extremely well acted, and has a balanced, unique plot.

Early on a Sunday morning, 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist, The United States of Tara) checks himself into a mental health clinic. Craig, who’s been suffering from depression for about a year, intends to get a quick medication fix and leave the clinic later that day in time for school on Monday. But the ward’s psychiatrist (Academy Award winner Viola Davis) insists on keeping him for a five-day observation period. Craig learns the ropes of the clinic with the help of his friend and mentor, an adult patient named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), and — of course — falls in love with Noelle (Emma Roberts), another teen at the clinic. Craig’s brief stint in the institution teaches him some valuable and cheesy life lessons about standing up to his overbearing parents (Jim Gaffigan and Lauren Graham) and learning to like himself for who he is. Awwwww.

The film, however, achieves a rare feat: it manages to be laugh-out-loud funny without brushing off the seriousness of issues like suicide, depression, and mental illness. The patients’ antics make us laugh, yes, but the film doesn’t shy away from the sadder aspects of these people’s conditions. It finds the perfect balance between the two: it’s truly a feel-good movie, but not too good.

Zach Galifianakis helps with this, as he brings a great deal of levity to some of the heavier scenes. As does Keir Gilchrist, a fairly unknown actor who won’t be unknown much longer. He does a fantastic job in the role of Craig: he’s nervous, depressed but with a sense of humor, sincere, and somehow meek without being annoying. Gilchrist has the potential to be the new Michael Cera, only a lot more talented and a lot less pathetic.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story hits all the right notes: it’s funny when it needs to be (and really, really funny at that), serious when it should be, and often a perfect marriage of the two. It can get a little cliché, but I’m willing to forgive. On a scale of one to five, this one gets a four-and-a-half.

Wait, there’s also a dream sequence where all of the mental patients perform “Under Pressure” decked out in vintage Queen and David Bowie attire. So, actually, on a scale of one to five, this movie gets a five. The sequence was just that good.