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The latest collaboration from the directing and writing team responsible for “Half Nelson” concerns a questionably suicidal 16-year-old who checks himself into a psychiatric hospital. Unfortunately, the heavily medicated vibe also extends to the film.
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” based on a 2006 semi-autobiographical novel by Ned Vizzini, is a dramatically inert, lethargic dramedy that isn’t nearly as quirky and poignant is it perceives itself.
From its reliance on cutesy cutaways to the lead’s languid observations — occasionally directly into the camera — the treatment of the material seldom feels fresh or interesting, save for a sensitive Zach Galifianakis performance as a fellow patient.
Despite the title’s indication of being a quasi-comedy, Focus Features could have a tricky time convincing a committed audience.
Running the gamut from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to “Girl, Interrupted,” psych ward movies have long captured the imagination of the world’s filmmakers.
Vizzini’s young-adult novel had the hook of taking in all the scenery from the p.o.v. of its reasonably sane if stressed teen protagonist, who one day calls a suicide hotline and is advised to head straight for the hospital.
Not quite sure of what he’s gotten himself into, Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) finds himself being admitted as the newest patient at Brooklyn’s Argenon Hospital, placed on the adult floor since the youth ward is closed for renovations.
He almost immediately finds a mentor in the form of Bobby (an affectingly introspective Galifianakis) and a potential love interest in Noelle (a solid Emma Roberts), a troubled young woman with the self-inflicted facial cuts to prove it.
Then, of course, there’s the requisite assortment of wacky supporting roles.
That unfettered, matter-of-fact storytelling technique which has served Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden so well in the past, simply doesn’t serve the milieu this time around, having the opposite effect of stifling the production rather than freeing it from conventionality.
It also doesn’t help that, while it’s clear the filmmakers were in the market for a Zach Braff/Justin Long-type lead, Keir, a regular on “United States of Tara,” isn’t in possession of their easy charisma.
The talents of the usually impressive Viola Davis, meanwhile, are wasted here in the role of staff psychiatrist, Dr. Eden Minerva, whose name proves more interesting than her scaled-back character.
Only Galifianakis emerges as the one memorable patient running this otherwise unremarkable asylum.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Focus Features)
Production companies: A Focus Features presentation in association with Wayfare Entertainment of a Misher Films Production, a Wayfare Entertainment production
Cast: Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis Emma Roberts, Viola Davis
Directors: Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden
Screenwriters: Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden
Executive producers: Jeremy Kipp Walker, Michael Maher, Peter Rawlinson, Patrick Baker
Producers: Kevin Misher, Ben Browning
Director of photography: Andrij Parekh
Production designer: Beth Mickle
Music: Broken Social Scene
Costume designers: Kurt and Bart
Editor: Anna Boden
Rating: 101 minutes
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