Monday, April 15, 2019

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about a teenage boy who checks into a hospital following an attempted suicide jump where he is hospitalized for depression as he meet other individuals struggling with their own mental illnesses. Written for the screen and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film is an exploration of a teenage boy dealing with the pressures of society and his own shortcomings as he would try to understand himself as well as those suffering from anxieties. Starring Keir Gilchrist, Emma Roberts, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Jeremy Davies, Zoe Kravitz, Thomas Mann, Aasif Mandvi, Bernard White, Laverne Cox, Viola Davis, and Zach Galifianakis. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a witty and engrossing film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

With the pressure to succeed both in school and in life just before it’s really about to start, the film is about a teenage boy who checks into a hospital following a suicide attempt where he would stay for nearly a week as he meets various people with similar struggles as well as other forms of mental illness. It’s a film that explores the anxieties of a sixteen-year old kid where he would meet people around his age who also deal with problems as well as adults who are also coping with some form of illness. The film’s screenplay by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck is told mainly by its protagonist Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) who attends a prestigious high school in Brooklyn as he’s due to finish an application for a prestigious summer school as his father George (Jim Gaffigan) expects him to do so while he is also in the shadow of his friend Aaron Fitzcarraldo (Thomas Mann) who is dating his longtime crush Nia (Zoe Kravitz). After imagining the idea of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge where he would think about how his family would think, it would force Gilner to check into a hospital thinking he would stay for a short period of time.

Yet, the stay would be for a week for observation and therapy where Gilner meets an adult patient in Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) who is dealing with his own issues as well as trying to get a home to stay after he gets discharged. Gilner would also befriend another teenage patient in Noelle (Emma Roberts) as all of the teenage patients are staying at the adult ward due to renovations for the teenage ward. Noelle is there for self-harm as Gilner deals with the fact that he’s got a lot going for him but the pressure to succeed eventually got to him where he is able to gain sympathy from the other patients and the hospital’s therapist Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis) who is aware of his troubled thoughts.

The direction of Boden and Fleck is largely straightforward in terms of its compositions and setting while it does have some stylistic elements in the film as it relates to the drawings that Gilner would create. Shot on location in Brooklyn as well as parts of New York City, Boden and Fleck would use some wide shots but maintain an intimacy into the hospital setting such as its hallways, rooms, and common rooms for patients to socialize at. The usage of close-ups and medium shots as well as stylish moments of fantasy help play into the film’s quirky and offbeat tone while Boden and Fleck would know when to keep the film grounded in reality. Even in the group therapy sessions, simple conversations between Gilner, Bobby, and Noelle, and other moments where Gilner has to deal with elements of reality including small meetings with his family.

With Boden also serving as the film’s editor, she and Fleck would also create some stylish montages that play into the anxieties in Gilner’s life as well as some surreal sequences about the idea of what his future might be. Much of Boden’s editing would have some stylistic flair in the montages and in some jump-cuts that include a dream sequence of Gilner and other patients playing Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie. With the aid of animation director Brian Drucker, the animated backgrounds would play into this idea of fantasy but also hope for Gilner. The sense of realism does occur for its third act but there is also this element of hope as it relates to the time Gilner spent as well as realize that there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to depression and mental illness. Overall, Boden and Fleck craft a touching and heartfelt film about a teenage boy seeking help at hospital where he learns about those that are also in need of help.

Cinematographer Andrij Parekh does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward for many of the interior scenes at the hospital and at Gilner’s school while there’s some low-key lighting for a few interior/exterior scenes set at night. Production designer Beth Mickle, with set decorator Carrie Stewart and art director Michael Ahern, does fantastic work with the look of the rooms, common rooms, and hallways at the hospital as well as the homes of Gilner’s family and friends. Costume designers Kurt and Bart do nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward with the exception of the glam-inspired costumes for the fantasy sequence.

Special effects makeup artist Michael Marino does terrific work with the makeup for the fantasy sequence as well as the look of the scars that Noelle is sporting on her body. Visual effects supervisor Anthony Luigi Santoro does brilliant work with the visual effects in bringing the animation to life as well as be used as an element of hope in the real world. Sound editor Paul Hsu does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the hospital and some of the sparse sounds that are made throughout the film. The film’s music by Broken Social Scene is wonderful for its indie-folk approach with melodic guitars and offbeat rhythms while music supervisor Andrea von Foerster provide a mixture of different musical genres from indie, punk, rock, hip-hop, and pop as it includes some songs by Broken Social Scene as well as the xx, Drum, Queen and David Bowie, the Damned, the Wowz, Pink Mountaintops, White Hinterland, Kurtis Blow, the Tom Robinson Band, Pharoah Sanders, Method Man and Redman, Common, Rachid Taha, and Black Sabbath.

The casting by Cindy Tolan is amazing as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from novelist Ned Vizzini as the hospital’s music teacher, Laverne Cox as a transgender patient, Ethan Herschenfeld as a Hasidic Jewish patient named Solomon, Mary Birdsong as Bobby’s ex-wife, Aasif Mandvi as Dr. Mahmoud who would be the first to analyze Gilner’s problems, Matthew Maher and Adrian Martinez as a couple of adult patients in their respective roles as Humble and Johnny, Morgan Murphy as a young patient in Joanie, Dana DeVestern as Gilner’s young sister Alissa, Bernard White as an Egyptian patient named Muqtada, and Jeremy Davies as a hospital monitor named Smitty who watches over everyone as he makes sure everyone is fine.

Thomas Mann and Zoe Kravitz are terrific in their respective roles as Gilner’s friends Aaron Fitzcarraldo and Nia with Mann as an overachiever who always get what he wants and Kravitz as Gilner’s crush who becomes interested in him during his time at the hospital. Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan are fantastic in their respective roles as Gilner’s parents in Lynn and George with the former being more concerned about her son’s well-being while the latter is hoping his son will get better and get back on track unaware of the pressure he’s putting towards his son. Viola Davis is excellent as Dr. Minerva as the hospital’s therapist who analyzes Gilner as well as be someone who is understanding and willing to listen as it’s a low-key yet somber performance from Davis.

Emma Roberts is brilliant as Noelle as a teenage patient with issues of self-harm as someone who is intrigued by Gilner as well as being also witty and aware of her own situation. Zach Galifianakis is incredible as Bobby as an adult patient who is going through issues of his own but also offers a lot of wisdom to Gilner about life as well as the fact that things do get more complicated in adulthood but there’s also hope. Finally, there’s Keir Gilchrist in a remarkable performance as Craig Gilner as a teenage boy with a lot going for him as he copes with the pressure to succeed as well as a lot of the anxieties where he learns how to cope as well as not be afraid of seeking help.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a marvelous film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Featuring a great ensemble cast, a superb music soundtrack, touching study of mental illness and depression, and the desire for hope in a complicated world. It’s a film that manages to showcase a young man trying to deal with his own anxieties and demands of the world where he finds solace through people who are also going through similar struggles. In the end, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is an exhilaratingly rich film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck Films: Half Nelson - Sugar (2008 film) - Mississippi GrindCaptain Marvel - The Auteurs #71: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

© thevoid99 2019


Jay said...

I watched this quite a long time ago and my memory of it isn't very vivid, other than having enjoyed the young actors quite a bit.

Often Off Topic said...

This movie is completely new to me and yet it sounds absolutely like my kind of thing! It's gone straight on my watchlist, thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Sonia Cerca said...

Great review! I didn't like it as much as you did — the comedy just didn't work very well for me — but it deals with depression and mental illness quite well.

thevoid99 said...

@Jay-I wasn't fond of the film at first but having been through my own experiences with depression and being hospitalized. I felt more connected to it as I also felt there's a realism that film seemed to overlook in my initial viewing.

@Often Off Topic-You're welcome as this is one of the joys I have in being a critic is to get people to find films of certain themes that are intriguing to them.

@Sonia-Thank you. The comedy was more low-key but I felt it worked as you need some humor to lighten things up in times that are tough.

Paul said...

Nice and very interesting

thevoid99 said...

@Paul-Thank you.