Ned Vizzini was a young adult author who frequently and openly struggled with his mental health before dying by suicide at the age of 32 in 2013. His best novel, It’s Kind of a Funny Story from 2006, is based off of Vizzini’s own stay at a mental health hospital during his young adulthood, and was adapted by Half Nelson (and future Captain Marvel) team Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden in 2010.
I saw It’s Kind of a Funny Story in theaters in 2010 as a recent college grad, and it really spoke to me. The film’s portrayal of depression — as a crushing weight of expectation and guilt that can happy to anyone, even those who seem to have what they want, even those of incredible privilege — reflected my own (relatively minor) bouts of anxiety and depression that I suffered during my college years.
Watching it 12 years later and further removed from my own emotional connection to the material, the films flaws and inherent contradictions hop out to me much more than they did when I was 22. But it’s still ultimately a film with slightly more to like than dislike.
Perhaps the film’s biggest liability is also one of its biggest draws: its light, inventive, and exceedingly quirky approach to storytelling. There are lots of cutaways to fantasies and gags of varying levels of whimsy. The worst perpetrators are some gags at the expense of mental health patients and a cringey VH1 Cribs parody. My favorite is perhaps the most jarring, an unexpected music video of “Under Pressure” with the stars lip-syncing along, perfectly capturing the catharsis of performing music.
The acting highlight is Zach Galifianakis, who is really excellent as a depressed dad always on the edge of breakdown. It’s the most dramatic role I’ve seen him in, but also a sarcastic and blackly comic performance.
The rest of the acting is a mixed bag. Keir Gilchrist as the lead is a blank cipher, pleasantly watchable and empathetic but never channeling the darkness that the script suggests. Emma Roberts is also fairly flat as the romantic interest, but that’s the screenplay’s fault more than hers.
The film’s mixed ability and desire to both have fun and take its mental health issues seriously means you’re likely to have a strong reaction to this one, positive or negative. For me, it varies by scene: The twee moments are nails on a chalkboard, but the quieter moments shine, like when Gilchrist opens up to psychiatrist Viola Davis.
There’s a dark undercurrent to watching It’s Kind of a Funny Story these days, knowing the author’s fate, that the mental health breakthrough he describes here is far from lasting. But that darkness only adds to the movie’s sense of gravity — goofy though it can be, It’s Kind of a Funny story is kind of a moving one, too.
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.