It’s Kind of a Funny Story is not an uplifting comedy. It’s not an uplifting comedy for two reasons. Firstly, it isn’t uplifting for the majority of its runtime. There are about 5 minutes total that are actually what you would call “happy moments”, and these are usually bookended by depressing parts. The second reason is that it is not funny, although it definitely tries to be. There are a lot of attempts at humor made, but unfortunately, they all fall flat.
The story follows a depressed 16-year-old named Chris (Keir Gilchrist). The film opens with him wanting to kill himself, and he begs to be admitted into a mental hospital. Literally. The doctor wanted to send him home, but he manages to convince the doctor to admit him. Here he meets Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), another patient. We don’t get to find out why he’s there until much later, but he does seem fairly stable. The rest of the film shows the next 5 days of Craig’s life, and him overcoming his difficulties in the safe environment that is a mental hospital. Maybe this kid just needs a hobby.
Once inside the hospital, Chris is told that depression is a serious mental illness, and that he needs anything that poses a risk stripped from him. This includes his shoelaces. This is funny because– actually, I don’t know why. There is also an issue with tone here. Despite being told how serious his and other’s mental illnesses are, that’s not how the film treats them.
For example, inside this hospital are people from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of problems. There is a schizophrenic, a couple of depressives, self-mutilators (this is what Emma Roberts’ character’s problem is), and even a guy who did 100 tabs of acid in one night, (something that I’m almost certain would kill you). Oh, and there’s a guy who has oversensitive hearing, and another who just won’t leave his room. Mental illnesses don’t come off as much of a hindrance, and are treated like a choice instead of an actual problem.
Even once inside the hospital, mental illnesses are trivialized. What help do the people get there? They get to talk to a doctor daily, who doesn’t do anything but ask them questions about their current feelings and their past experiences. And there is a daily pill handout that we can only guess is patient-specific, but are never told if this is the case.
The rest of the time, while not medicating or being “counseled”, they’re given free reign to basically do what they like. They’re not even watched all that much, being able to sneak out seemingly at will. There are some group activities that the characters are expected to take part in, but if the guy who just lies in bed all day can attest to, it’s not mandatory. However, we get to see the main cast perform a mini rock concert. Why? I’m still not sure, and I don’t think it really matters.
The only good part of the film comes from the cast, and not just the main cast. Gilchrist and Emma Roberts have good chemistry and are fine in their roles, while the other mental patients, at times, make it seem like they have real problems. Some of them clearly did have some issues to overcome, and they seemed like they belonged here. However, Zach Galifianakis made me fear for the lives of small children with his role. Whether this is just a bad mixture between his style of comedy and trying to play a more serious role, or just the way he’s written, he plays a creepy character that only becomes creepier as the film progresses.
Also detrimental is how the film ends. There’s enough effort put into making these characters likable and developed so that you’ll care about them by the end. This is done with mixed results, but if the attempt is there, giving us closure definitely would have been appreciated. But no, one of the character’s storylines ends without such closure, done seemingly just to make you think about what happened for them. What’s hinted upon is not for the best, but the voiceover at the end doesn’t indicate as such. It’s just weird and unnecessary for the film to finish this way.
Had It’s Kind of a Funny Story actually treated its subject, mental illness, with respect, it probably would have been an okay watch. Still not great, because the story was so simple and the ending — not only in the openness, but also in how quick it wraps everything up — was poorly done. But I couldn’t get over how simple mental illness was depicted. The cast is still good, but if you decide to watch it, don’t expect an uplifting comedy — it isn’t one.