October 8, 2010

It's Kind Of A Funny Story (10/08/2010)

Lettergrade: C-

Earlier today, I realized that we had seen a movie, like, two weeks ago that I have neglected to write about. It took me a moment to recall which movie it was, exactly, and what happened in it... something that probably speaks volumes about It's Kind Of A Funny Story and whether or not I believe you should spend a couple hours and a bunch of money to go see it yourself.

The lettergrade system I've been using for this blog sometimes fails me... I try to reserve the "C" range for movies that are not bad (although not especially good), and anything below for ones that start to feel a little lazy, or crappy, or poorly thought-out. Where do I put a perfectly serviceable dramatic comedy like this that doesn't do anything too offensive, but at the same time sticks to the tried-and-true conventions of its sub-genre, failing to distinguish itself as much more than exercise for everyone involved?

The movie is about a depressed teenager played by The United States Of Tara's Keir Gilchrist. He's haunted by recurring thoughts of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge that seem to stem from unrequited lust for his best friend's girl in addition to having to write some kind of important summer school application that will determine whether he'll go on to have a rich full life or not. Instead of actually jumping and cutting the movie's running time down considerably, he goes instead to the local hospital where ER doctor and Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi agrees to commit him to the hospital's mental ward for five days... Just enough time for him to befriend an eccentric man-child played by Zach Galifianakis and learn a couple important life lessons.

Minors and adults together in the looney bin? The movie explains multiple times that due to renovations in the section where the under 18ers would usually be, everyone must be mixed together for the foreseeable future. Yeah, that sounded conspicuously like a bullshit movie gimmick to me too... almost as if co-writers / co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were nearly done with the script by the time that a more informed source told them that a 16 year old and a 40 year old would never be allowed to be in the same treatment space like that, and this was the easiest fix they could come up with. And for that matter, their floor must be one of those no-security wards where those with dangerous mental impairments can basically leave whenever they want to without any repercussions whatsoever as long as they pick-up some unattended hospital scrubs first, and look around with mild concern before using one of the many, many unguarded exits.

But anyway, back to the plot. As the week continues, Gilchrist's friends on the outside learn about where he is. His best friend mocks him shamelessly as only a douchy 16 year old can, but the aforementioned best friend's girlfriend is suddenly really turned on, and even comes to the ward at one point with the intention of having sex with him! She's played by Zoƫ Kravitz, who looks like a slightly more feminine version of Lenny Kravitz, her father, and her sudden willingness to sleep with the friend of her boyfriend in a nasty mental ward is not only kind fucked up, but it also creates a problem for Gilchrist with another patient played by the lovely Emma Roberts, Julia's niece, with whom he had been developing a quasi romance.

And then there's Galifianakis himself, playing a more somber variation on the role in played last summer's The Hangover (which indeed might not be all that different from the man anyway). I still think he's really funny, and I sure hope he doesn't follow the Seth Rogen / Will Ferrell / Vince Vaughn template of making too many crappy movies way too quickly, thus completely wearing out his welcome before he's even had a chance to have a good long career. I'm glad that he tried to pick a movie with more content to appear in before Due Date hits next month and The Hangover 2 arrives next year, but I can't help but wish he had picked a better one to be in.

But you know, there's something weird about the fact that a big comedy guy like Galifianakis is in this movie in the first place, along with a number of other comedians like Mandvi and Jim Gaffigan, who plays Gilchrist's dad. None of their parts are all that funny, nor are they really intended to be (they are, however, "kinda funny" which I guess justifies the title). The Fleck and Boden might describe it as a "dramedy," which is a sub genre I have a problem with, actually, because so often it seems to be used as an excuse for the movie existing in the bland nether region between comedy and drama. It's not funny? Well, what do you expect, it's a Dramedy! The story doesn't have much drive? Well, it's a Dramedy! It's completely flaccid and uninteresting? Dramedy! As if the banality is okay because there's a category for it already.

Parts of this movie made me think of a much better movie, 1992's Scent Of A Woman, in that Gilchrist, like Chris O'Donnell before him, is thrust into a very adult and scary situation for a few days with a very damaged individual, from whom he gains a valuable perspective on life that transcends his piddly-shit troubles at school. In that movie, however, O'Donnell's journey is about developing character and doing the right thing in the face of expectation and peer pressure. In this one, it's more about the kid coming to the conclusion that he shouldn't work too hard at school and that he should totally ask out that Emma Roberts girl, even though she's really messed up and tried to commit suicide herself too.

Not sure what I'm supposed to take away from that, which is probably why I didn't take anything from it.

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