Toronto: Fleck and Boden's 'It's Kind Of A Funny Story' is a crushing disappointment
Decent cast is adrift in a sea of cliche and empty ephiphany
I haven't read Ned Vizzini's novel, so I can't judge it, but I can judge the movie that was adapted from it, written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the couple behind "Half Nelson" and "Sugar."
Those are both very good movies.
This is not.
Earlier in the day, I saw the new animated film "The Illusionist," which several people walked out of over the relatively brief running time of 80 minutes. I was a little surprised by that, frankly, and mentioned it on Twitter, leading to a long conversation back and forth between several different groups of people I know about the entire idea of walking out on movies. Some claim to never do it, other said they'd do it but wouldn't review the movie at all. Some debated when it's appropriate. The funny part about all of that is that I don't walk out on movies. Not often. The last one was, I believe, "Miss Congeniality" in its theatrical opening weekend, however long ago that was.
And yet just a few hours after that conversation, I found myself seriously debating getting up and walking out of "It's Kind Of A Funny Story," an agonizingly phony piece of work that struggles to be a sort of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" for teenagers, but which ends up regurgitating platitudes in place of any genuine insight or emotion. There's a musical number about 2/3 of the way into the film… seriously… where the patients of this mental hospital imagine themselves doing "Under Pressure," complete with Zach Galifianakis done up in glam rock gear and lip-synching to David Bowie… seriously. And I was so embarrassed, so uncomfortable with the total lack of recognizable human behavior in the film that I strongly debated getting up and leaving. I even considered writing a whole piece about the idea that I don't walk out of films, but I had to walk out of this one.
After all, it's not like the film offended me or crossed some profound moral line I'm upset by. It's not something that is so graphic I can't look at it. It's not upsetting. It's just that as I get older, the thing I look for and respond to is something real… something I recognize as the way things really are, or the way people really are… something that indicates that the film is about something genuine. I just need a little bit of that, and I'm inclined to be on your side. And when that's missing? That's when I go crazy. That's when I can't sit still, when I shift in my seat, when I start thinking about leaving. I find myself physically uncomfortable when I know what I'm watching is bullshit. Even so, I stayed to the bitter end. And all it cost me was time and a good mood.
Like I said, I like earlier work by Boden and Fleck, and I'm sure I'll like work of theirs in the future. But this movie is almost unmitigated garbage. It's smarmy. It's cheesy. It pretends to offer up some insight, but it's all just rehashed and borrowed and surface. From the very beginning, the voice-over by Keir Gilchrist, starring here as Craig, an average teen with entirely average problems who checks himself into a mental hospital for adults by mistake for five days, is mannered and on the nose. There are some good actors here, stranded by weak material. Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan are both interesting, but you'd never know it from their walk-on roles as Craig's parents. Emma Roberts and Zoe Kravitz are both charming, and they certainly do their best to energize their roles. But Jeremy Davies and Viola Davis seem like they're barely even trying in their thankless parts as hospital staff. Really, Zach Galifianakis is probably the person trying the hardest, but it's such a weakly-written role that he really suffers.
Gilchrist, though, is the main problem. He's simply too bland to carry the film, too anonymous in his teenage angst. The film is shot to look like an indie version of the story, but it's cut like a studio movie through and through. All the big beats are there except for an ending that I'm almost sure they must have shot before dumping it, making sure to end everything with one big wet soppy hug. It's all empty ephiphany, unearned and insignificant. If you've ever seen any movie in this genre before, you'll be able to tick off each familiar beat as it happens. It's shameless, and a major disappointment, my first of the festival so far.
Oh, well. Two of the three movies today have been good (I'll have that "Illusionist" review later), and I've still got James Gunn's "Super" at midnight to look forward to. It happens.
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