In the movies, kids
from New York are always precocious, hyperverbal little shits
with overblown emotional problems. Is that all the city offers?
That and Ray's Famous Pizza? Aren't any of the kids normal,
doing normal shit, aren't declared geniuses and have real issues,
instead of the phony-baloney horseshit imagined by self-absorbed
These kids aren't
characters; they're mediocre screenwriters' delusional fantasies
of the next Holden Caulfield. Flicks like Igby Goes Down,
Rocket Science and now It's Kind of a Funny Story
tend to be too navel-gazing, precious and gentle toward their
main characters to mean anything. The writers, directors and
actors, are too in love with their own assumed brilliance, projected
onto the kids. I didn't know J. D. Salinger, but I think he'd
rip out these filmmakers eyes and shit in their sockets. I also
believe he lived in a survivalist bunker in the woods of Georgia,
eating bears he caught with his bare hands and making his own
hallucinogenics from the bones of trespassers. And his morning
glass of milk came from cats.
is real. He wasn't worshipped by Salinger. I think Salinger
wrote him as fallible, fucked up and exasperating. Just not
as much as the world around him. That's why Caulfield is so
damn great. That's also why he's imitated so often, yet almost
always misunderstood. Everybody I have known who thought he
was Holden Caulfield was not; if you think you're like him,
you're automatically wrong.
The creators of the
imitations love them too much to make them as good or pure as
Holden Caulfield. The audience ends up with twee little pricks
too passive and mopey to be worth two shits in a one-stall outhouse.
That's the main problem with It's Kind of a Funny Story.
Well, besides that it isn't kind of, or barely funny. This is
dull and schmaltzy stuff wrapped around a character that its
director/writer combo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck think is something
unique and terrific, but played with a droopy lack of charisma
by Keir Gilchrist.
Gilchrist plays a
lovesick teenager who gets himself admitted to a looney bin
to avoid the pressures of being another brilliant New York teen
with a demanding dad and a broken heart. Both of these motivators
are as trite and predictable as you'd expect. The audience is
supposed to suspend disbelief that, in Brooklyn, a very normal
kid with pretty fucking typical problems (he hasn't even attempted
suicide) can get a stay in a psych ward when there are about
a million people on the streets wearing underwear on their heads
and talking to fire hydrants. Once admitted, he comes out of
his shell, thanks to the other textbook-wacky residents and
the hot chick with a cutting problem.
In the nuthouse,
Gilchrist discovers he doesn't want to be a wall street titan
like his father (how fucking profound!). He instead realizes
he wants to be an artist! On this cornball journey, he encounters
a band of nutjobs so cute, harmless and wacky they should have
their own sitcom. There is the woman who went paranoid cuckoo
after 9/11, the guy who eats a dollar bill, the fat, slovenly
man who fancies himself a ladies man, the Hasidic Jew with sensitive
ears, the schizophrenic who shouts out shit, and the recluse
roommate that Gilchrist pulls out of his shell. They are all
trite and shopworn, examples of crazy people taken from a movie
on Lifetime or the Hallmark channel. Or imagined by filmmakers
whose only real experience with mental illness is what they've
seen on TV.
The distinct wacko
is played by Zach Galifianakis, a depressed father who has tried
to kill himself six times. One of the movie's mysteries is supposed
to be why he is in the nuthouse. Personally, I didn't give a
fuck. Like the other characters, he wasn't deep enough to think
about. He takes Gilcrhist under his wing, so you know that even
though he is nuts and says stupid stuff, he will shed profound
wisdom like a sheepdog does hair. I never really figured out
what that wisdom was, but the movie assured me it had been shed
and that Gilchrist was better for wearing intellectual corduroys
to catch it all. Conversely, the man learns from the teen. They
teach each other what's important in life. Blah, blah, blah.
Insert rote revelations here.
The other character
we're supposed to give a shit about is Emma Roberts as the cute
girl institutionalized for cutting her arms and face. Seriously?
This character is about as thin as the sheetmetal on a Fiat.
She's supposed to be self-loathing, yet she sends neatly written
notes that display more self-assurance than a banker's convention.
"Meet me at seven p.m." she writes to Gilchrist at their first
encounter. What self-doubting teen girl writes shit like that,
as though she can be certain enough she won't be rejected? More
likely, a sad girl mumbles into her shoulder, "So, like, I might
be at that bench tonight, maybe, I don't know. I don't care.
Whatever," softly enough that if he doesn't show she can convince
herself he didn't hear her. Throughout the script, Roberts'
character has no room to be human. She's too busy acting like
no teen girl I ever met. Her point is not be a person but a
tool to make Gilchrist feel good.
A fine example of
the cheesy phoniness of It's Kind of a Funny Story is
in Gilchrist's shut-in Egyptian roommate. The character is so
depressed he stays under the covers, never leaving his bed.
That is, until Gilchrist suggests he go out and see the world.
That's pretty much all it takes to get the hermit out and about.
I guess the doctors never though of that approach. In the movie's
climax, Gilchrist lures the recluse out to dance at a pizza
party by providing an Egyptian long-playing record to the deejay.
See, kids? Mental problems are easy to fix.
As with all pat stories,
everyone ends up happy. Gilchrist gets to be an artist and make
out with Roberts instead of being a stressed-out facsimile of
his dad. Unfortunately, he still isn't interesting. Galifianakis
gets to move to a group home and see his daughter. The other
nutjobs get a pizza party. Gilchrist makes a brief speech about
how he knows this isn't the end of his problems and he isn't
cured. The point of that speech, however, is actually to say,
"I'm cured now, see, because I know I still have problems, but
now my struggles are going to be fun!" The sentiment is as cheap
and tacky as a birthday card bought in a liquor store.
Kind of a Funny Story is too fucking easy and cheap and
unfunny. Plus, it's about a normal kid with normal problems,
played by an actor who does nothing to make them unique. Gilchrist
mostly stares at the screen, his eyes and mouth too dim to portray
the intelligence that Boden and Fleck want to be there but didn't
manage to put into the script. The kid's no fucking Caulfield
and his creators are no Salinger. Two Fingers for It's
Kind of a Funny Story.
to tell Filthy Something?