One of the side effects of subscribing to pay cable channels is the massive number of movies available to watch. Further than that, though, is the fact that, inevitably, you will watch few of them completely through. You’ll see them in bits, or you’ll miss a chunk, or just never finish some of them. This was the inspiration behind not only the subject of today’s post, but the angle with which I approach it.
I watched last year’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” on HBO on Sunday, but I missed approximately the first 20 minutes. My review will be based around that. Fair? No. But life isn’t. I know. I jumped in on an office Lotto pool last week. That I’m not writing this from the Caymans right now tells you how fair life is.
The movie is about Craig (Keir Gilchrist from the late “United States of Tara”), a depressed teenager who checks himself into a psych ward after trying to kill himself. When he gets there, he’s told the youth wing is undergoing renovations, so he’s placed in the adult ward. (Is it even legal to place juvenile psych patients with adult patients like that? Especially given one of the juveniles looks like Emma Roberts and is just there hanging around as well?)
Regardless of that, he meets an older patient (Zach Galifianakis, dipping his toe into Robin Williams’ waters) who shows him around the rest of the place. Craig is initially scared and wants to leave, but after being told he has to stay through the week, quickly makes friends and learns a lot about himself. Also, he totally wants to dry-hump Emma Roberts’ character, who is a cutter, so of course, she’s my type of gal. She’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, except replace “Dream” with “Night Terrors,” and put “Manic” in all caps.
Did I mention there’s a teenage girl with severe emotional issues and rock-bottom self-esteem in a psych ward full of adult males? Am I worrying too much about this?
I don’t quite know what to call this kind of movie. It’s not quite like the (sorry for the racial implications, I’m just reporting here) “Magic Negro” or, as has happened lately, the “Magic Rich White Lady” (i.e. The Blind Side, Secretariat) story. In those, the “magic” supporting character is only there to help the lead better himself. In this film, the other characters are there to be changed by the lead character. Though Craig figures himself out some, his presence in the psych ward serves mainly to show how much he turns everyone else’s life around in just five days. He helps Galifianakis’ character through a group home interview, and gets a few other characters out of their shells. Given that this film is based on a book that was itself based on a novel that was itself based on the author’s real experience, there’s an undercurrent of self-aggrandization that’s troubling. “Thank god I was institutionalized so I could help myself by also solving all these other folks’ problems, and turning into a minor celebrity in the psych ward.” I’m not saying Craig is Bella Swan, but he’s in the same neighborhood.
The acting is decent: Galifianakis reins in his usual “autistic wrecking ball” routine and directs his usual sarcasm into more dramatic territory. Certainly not Oscar-worthy, but less cloying than many of Robin Williams’ similar efforts. Emma Roberts is alright, but I can’t get over the idea that it’s still just Emma Roberts with a couple of scars on her arms, not some damaged teenager. Keir Gilchrist is pretty good, though. He hits all the Michael Cera notes of awkwardness without a lot of the Cera baggage. He was a standout on “Tara,” and it’s a shame he hasn’t been in much else yet. I think he has a good career ahead of him. Hopefully he can be in a better movie.
Now, I need to address a weird parallel between this movie and Sucker Punch.
Please, wait… sit down, and let me explain. And, no, it’s not simply that they both take place in a psych ward.
In Sucker Punch, Babydoll is known for being so gifted at sexy dancing (krunking) that she can hypnotize men and garner standing ovations. However, the movie famously never actually shows the sexy dancing, preferring instead to cut to the batshit terrible action set pieces where the girls fight steampunk zombies and orcs and dragons and robots and, fuck it, why not Sour Patch Kids with laser helmets? The set piece ends, and we cut to a crowd moved to ovation by her prowess at dancing that WE NEVER FUCKING SEE.
In Funny Story, there are two parts where Craig blows everyone away: when he first attempts his artwork (which becomes his new passion and direction in life), and when he gets up to sing at music therapy class (again, ostensibly his first time singing in front of people). And what happens when he’s about to actually do these things? You guessed it: we cut to fantasy sequences. Now, the fantasies actually have something to do with the real world this time around: the art is shown via a CG-animated dream, and the singing is shown as a glammed-up concert performance with the psych ward as Craig’s backing band (“Under Pressure” by Bowie and Queen, FYI). But still, we don’t actually SEE this happening in the real world of the film. We just get the setup, then a fantasy, then everyone applauding and congratulating Craig. Nothing can top the ineptitude of Sucker Punch, but it’s odd that the same technique is employed in both films.
Despite my complaints, the film was alright. It’s one of those dozens of small, indie movies that pop up, are OK, and flit away thereafter. The acting was decent, and the script was fine, if a bit obvious (you’ll guess how every character’s story resolves by the halfway point). It’s always difficult to know what to do with this sort of movie. It’s not good enough to love, yet not at all bad enough to rant about and also love. Not everything can be The Dark Knight (the former) or The Happening (the latter), but that also means not everything has a place on the shelf, so to speak.
Maybe that’s setting my expectations too high, but I only have so much room in my brain. If you’re not going to be either a Chris Nolan film or a Twilight movie, it ain’t sticking around long in my head. Sorry.