The movie starts on a bridge—both literally and figuratively. In the opening scene, distressed 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) climbs out on a bridge. Filled with teenage angst inside and facing a crazy, messed-up world outside, Craig is overwhelmed and tempted to end it all.
When he wakes up and realizes he's just had another suicide-themed dream, and that they're getting more vivid, he also realizes he's teetering on a bridge between sanity and craziness. Afraid he's headed in a dangerous direction, he climbs out of bed without waking his parents or younger sister and bikes himself to the nearest hospital in his Brooklyn neighborhood.
After explaining to the attending physician his stress over his demanding pre-professional magnet school, his crush on his best friend's girlfriend, his forthcoming application to a prestigious summer program, his over-busy father and overwrought mother, his tendency to puke when stressed, not to mention global warming and the economy—as well as his suicide dreams and the fact that he recently took himself off Zoloft—Craig gets himself checked into the psych ward.
Since the teen wing is under renovation, Craig is put in with the adults for his five-day minimum stay. He's soon introduced to Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), the gregarious man-child who shows him around 3 North (the adult wing) and introduces him to the amenities (the art room, the rec room) and the locals (the doped-out, the delusional, and the delightful Noelle, a fellow displaced teen).
At first Craig is even more stressed—he was hoping for a quick cure that wouldn't keep him out of school for so long. And he's a bit freaked out by all the people who are dealing with more serious issues, like his mumbling, bed-bound roommate. Instead of rescuing him, Craig's parents arrive with some of his things and the advice to do whatever the doctors recommend.
In the following days Craig attends art therapy, has meandering and meaningful conversations with Bobby, slowly opens his heart to Noelle (Emma Roberts), tries to get to the root of his issues with Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis), and tries to explain to his friends via the payphone in the hall where he is and why. It's in all these human interactions that the magic of the movie happens—the a-ha moments, the small awakenings, the baby steps toward a healthier reality.
The most compelling moments are between Craig and Bobby. Their conversations are deep and revealing without seeming too clever or overwritten. Gilchrist and Galifianakis imbue their characters with warmth, wit, and quirky charm. Only Craig's parents (Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan) start to veer into caricature territory with some of their classic yuppie faults.
Sure, this is a relatively sanitized look at depression and other mental disorders, but then again 3 North is a temporary facility for those who struggle. The hard-core cases would be in a more permanent location. Thankfully the film avoids some common trappings of movie mental wards—out of touch doctors, sadistic orderlies, rampant overmedication. These patients are merely people on the verge—walking that tightrope with brokenness, pluck, and yes, some only-in-the-movies charm.
Though most of the film happens in the hospital ward, there are a couple scenes of stylization—when Craig draws some intricate city scenes that come to life and when all the patients sing a rousing version of "Under Pressure" in music therapy class and are magically transformed into a rocking music video. The latter scene is a lovely tribute to the way music and community can elevate us for a few joyful, transcendent moments.
What seeps through all these scenes is a surprising, compelling celebration of life. The film seems to be communicating that life is crazy, and those who stop—and sometimes need to check in—to acknowledge that are merely wise enough to embrace the truth and seek the help they need to navigate the maze. In the moving forward, in the coming together to help those who need it, there is hope. The film doesn't depict an eternal hope, but a hope based on friendship, love, communication, music, art, laughter, truth—some of the better things offered to us by the One who is eternal hope.
The ending is a bit pat and over-sweet, but the voiceover kind of acknowledges that, which somehow makes it mostly okay. They can't all be tragic endings, right? The beauty here is that a movie about depression and people on the verge can be a sweet, funny, life-affirming story. And perhaps that's the funniest part about this charming little film.
- Why do you think Craig checks himself into the hospital? What pushes him to finally make that move? And why do you think he doesn't wake his family to let them know what he's doing?
- In an opening scene, Craig talks about his inability to cope when everyone else seems to be able to handle challenges. Have you ever wrestled with coping with life's stresses? What has helped you in those moments?
- Bobby wrestles over whether his daughter is better off with or without him in her life. What do you think?
- What do you think Bobby and Craig teach each other? Where do you picture Bobby and Craig in a year?
- How do his five days in the psych ward impact Craig? What does he learn or gain during his stay?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
It's Kind of a Funny Story is rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material, and language. We see Craig actually jump from the bridge in the opening scene and crash into the water below before waking up and realizing it's a dream. Bobby gives a hospital worker some prescription drugs in exchange for access to the gym. The girlfriend of Craig's best friend shows up at the hospital and starts to seduce him before they're interrupted by Craig's roommate. And in several flashback scenes, we see the girlfriend and the best friend making out and having sex (it's mostly implied and there's no nudity).
Photos © Focus Features.
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