' ' Cinema Romantico: It's Kind Of A Funny Story

Monday, November 01, 2010

It's Kind Of A Funny Story

Set in a New York psych ward but featuring a teenage protagonist, the third feature film of Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (responsible for Cinema Romantico's #2 Movie of the Year in 2009) could have turned into a complete mess of tone, and occasionally the tone does founder, like when attempting to shoehorn Wes Anderson techniques into the proceedings, but, for the most part, this is a winning interpretation of Ned Vizzini's book. I hesitate to call it a dramedy because that's not right at all. It's sorta serious, a little dark but, you know, it's still kind of a funny story.

As the film opens, Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is contemplating jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge but instead pedals his bike to a nearby hospital to check himself into the psychiatric wing at the Argeron Hospital. (Note: This is the second movie I've seen in as many weeks that starts too early. Starting with Craig walking into the hospital and saying "I want to kill myself" and then the nurse handing him the clipboard with a "Fill this out" would have been so much sharper and better than that whole dream/not a dream nonsense but I digress.) Is Craig depressed? The doctor says he's not a threat to himself but Craig says maybe he isn't doing such a good job of explaining his depression. Is it made up? Teenage melodrama and/or angst? Is it stress? It it clinical? Is it a combination of these things? Craig is admitted to see if he can figure it out.

Make no mistake, this is not the grimy, underlit mental institution of "Changeling". This is more like "The Muppets Take The Psych Ward". If an old Indian dude never ever, under any circumstances, leaves his room at the beginning, well, rest assured, he's gonna leave his room by the end. It's like that. And so the reviewer could toss words such as "whimsical" at this make-nice psych ward and its good Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis, strong in support as always) but, heck, I don't know, why's every psych ward in the movies gotta look like a midieval dungeon?  Can't there sometimes be a psych ward with pizza parties and the electric boogaloo instead of electroshocks?

Craig will, as he must, find a mentor in the form of Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and he will, as he must, meet a lovely, also-troubled soul named Noelle (Emma Roberts) in order to provide the requisite romantic entanglement .  It's somewhat disappointing, though, to see the whole Craig/Noelle subplot play out so generically with, amongst other commonalities, the Pledging-Love-To-Wrong-Girl-While-Right-Girl-Stands-Within-Earshot when considering how the third act of Boden & Fleck's "Sugar" was so extraordinarily anti-convention and essentially the movie gets wrapped up in decorative paper with a festive bow on top but it also does a nicely clever thing with its voiceover where it acknowledges that this is what it's doing.  But Galifianakis's Bobby....

If this movie for its entire running time straddles a fine line between sincere and madcap, between happiness and pathos, but here and there fails to maintain it, let me tell you....Galifianakis walks the line. This is a considerably calibrated performance that easily could have collapsed into comedian-esque histrionics or simply come across as the guy with multiple screws loose which would undermine the entire mentoring angle but Galifianakis, who's all vacantly vibrant eyes, delivers a performance that is extremely honest in its quirkiness. All his line readings and mannerisms suggest he's off but not too off, off enough to be in this place but not so off he couldn't act as this kid's council. And his reasons for being there upon their revelation make sense when taken in context with really the only scene where he suddenly and quite scarily blows his stack. I'm just gonna say this and I'm gonna stand by it: This is one of the best performances of 2010.

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