Anyone who saw (especially anyone who enjoyed) either Half Nelson or Sugar would never expect its makers to be capable of a musical number involving a glittery Zach Galifianakis with a foot-high pompadour wailing “Under Pressure.” Or of magically resolving characters’ deep personal traumas. Or of using a tripod and doing fancy tracking shots. Or of generally upchucking the kind of overpolished, cutesy “indie quirk” that once a decade or so manages to cross over to box-office booty. But such is the depressing, heartbreaking spectacle of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
Half Nelson was in part notable for sounding stupid but playing great—Funny Story is just the opposite. Adapted from Ned Vizzini’s novel, it follows suicidal 16-year old Brooklynite Craig (Keir Gilchrist), who coaxes his way into the psychiatric ward of a hospital, populated by some wacky nutters: an acid-burnout Hasid, a dude who screams a lot, an agorophobe who might be lured from his bed with the right song. Perhaps this newbie will learn that life is worth living, bring some sunshine into these crazies’ lives and maybe even score with Manic Pixie Dream Girl patient Emma Roberts, not remotely credible as a girl with mysterious scars across her cheek. Here’s the chance for Boden and Fleck to flaut convention and offer a smartly mordant purview of health-clinic life—but, improbably, they don’t take it.
This would be forgivable if the movie were funny, but the only joke that works is Jeremy Davies cast as a sane person at a mental institution. Ditto if it were moving, but its serious bits are almost offensively trite and banal. Only Galifianakis knows what he’s doing, in a soulful turn that nets him a lot of goodwill that gets him started digging out of the hole that deepens every time the trailer for Due Date is screened.
There’s no shame in young, absurdly talented ones like Boden and Fleck wanting to branch out. But Funny Story makes a strong case for being one-note.