Um, It’s, Well, Kind of an Okay Movie

This is a review of the flick It’s Kind of A Funny Story, helmed and typed by the team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, from the novel by Ned Vizzini.

 

Yes.

 

In writing about movies before, this blog has noted that expectations are everything.  And going into a flick from the team behind both Half Nelson and Sugar (seriously, queue ’em up if you haven’t seen ’em–  I’ll wait), my expectations couldn’t have been higher.

Let me say the flick is probably the best-directed not-good movie I’ve ever seen.  That’s not to say it’s bad, or campily bad, it’s just, this story can’t support the brilliant directorial flourishes the team brings to the flick.

Let’s go back, shall we?  Half Nelson was a stunning feature debut, netting Ryan Gosling a Best Actor nod, and Sugar was a revelation: the best little movie no one saw, featuring not one name actor.  Both pictures are ultra-realistic, calling to mind Kenneth Lonergan or Tom McCarthy, and sport few if any flourishes.  (Adhering to that Billy Wilder maxim about if you can tell who directed the picture, it wasn’t directed well.)

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story has a ton of flourishes, from a joyous Glee-like David Bowie performance to picture maps of characters’ brains, and a lot of it works.  (Look for a mid-movie homage to the late John Hughes.)  It’s the story that can’t support it.  We’re asked to believe that this kid would check himself into an adult psychiatric ward, when that absolutely wouldn’t be allowed.  We’re asked to buy that right from the get-go there’s a chance he’ll off himself, when we know that isn’t true.  Heck, the protagonist continually keeps lowering his own stakes (via voice-over, no less), so why do we care?

There’s a terrific turn by man-of-the-moment Zach Galifanakis (reminding me a bit of Will Ferrell’s turn in the underrated Stranger than Fiction), who understandably gets all the best lines, but again never do we believe– for a moment, and this is a supporting character!– that he’s in real jeopardy.  (Contrast that to their two previous features, in which we genuinely never know what’s coming next.)  Even the other supporting characters are ripped out of the standard, how to populate a mental instiution handbook Hollywood officially adopted after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

And that’s the thing–  the story’s just too paint-by-numbers Hollywood (Boy turns a mental ward into a family, and finds love!) for this incredibly talented team.  What might’ve been done to improve this flick?

 

Absolutely.

 

1.  Up the stakes.  If we genuinely weren’t sure if the teenage protagonist or Zach G. were going to make it, we’d watch.  Now, the flick– not entirely un-enjoyable– is slow as some kind of thick, dark brown,uncrystallized juice.

2.  Loose the love story.  As lovely as the soon-to-be-everywhere Emma Stone is, it’s so, so predictable and feels shoehorned in.

3.  Finalize the tone.  Yes, movies about real people and their real, small problems are infinitely harder to make then, say, flicks about killer robots or alien invasions, but this team has done it before, and spectacularly.  Yet to walk this coming-of-age dramedy line (like, say, James L. Brooks) you’ve got to pick a tone and stick with it.  Is this a Hollywood flick?  An indie?  An ensemble dramedy?  A coming-of-age tale?  Fantastical or realistic?  Snarky or sentimental?  Unfortunately it’s one of those movies that plays better in the trailer.

I plan to see everything this team does, and there’s plenty in this flick– moments– to recommend.  But it’s not the sum of its parts.

 

Kind Of.

 

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