With Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Zach Galifianakis, Aasif Mandvi, Viola Davis. Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material and language. 91 minutes.
Using mental illness as a metaphor for life is old hat in the movies. It might be the gentle lunatics of “King Of Hearts” or the misfit suicides of “Wristcutters: A Love Story,” but this is material that has been done many times before and has to be carefully handled. With IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, they take the easy way out, making the folks at a Manhattan hospital ward for clinically depressed patients into a romp featuring colorfully quirky characters, in which young love triumphs over all. It’s occasionally amusing but there’s not an honest moment in the movie.
We first meet Craig (Keir Gilchrist) contemplating ending it all. Given the recent spate of youthful suicides, this is not a subject to be taken lightly, but Craig’s depression seems motivated by having the hots for his best friend’s girlfriend. He checks himself into a hospital and is befriended by two characters, whose overly convenient presence we simply must accept.
First, there’s Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), a slightly older man who takes to sneaking out of the ward disguised as a doctor. Then there’s Noelle (Emma Roberts), a girl Craig’s age who unsuccessfully attempted suicide and who serves as a potential love interest as well as Craig’s path back to stability. It’s all a bit pat, but we’re supposed to be charmed by these quirky eccentrics so that when a music therapy session turns into a fantasy rock video, we’re expected to go with the flow.
The movie does give the three leads a chance to break out of their past roles. Gilchrist may be best known as the gay son on the Showtime series “The United States Of Tara,” and he gets to play a different sort of vulnerability here. Roberts – daughter of Eric, niece of Julia – came out of the kids’ network Nickelodeon to do family films like “Nancy Drew,” so this is a chance for her to play a more serious “adult” role. And Galifianakis has gained a following from moronic comedies like “The Hangover” and “Dinner For Schmucks,” so getting to play a role with some dimension is a welcome change. All three do well, and if the film is engaging on any level, it’s due to their performances.
Nonetheless, the script is lame and it’s clear the filmmakers know little about their subject matter. Can you imagine a hospital with a ward of suicidal patients that lets them sneak out for, in one scene, a few moments on the roof of the building? The people most out of touch with reality are not the cartoon loonies onscreen, but the people behind the camera who think this film is in any way a reflection of coping with depression and mental illness, even in comic form.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.