It's Kind of a Funny Story
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Craig dreams of jumping off a bridge in New York City. It's more of a nightmare, really, and it's not like he ever goes through with it—even when he's asleep. He always wakes up when his family starts chiding him for being inconsiderate.
Still, stressed-out, overachieving teen Craig Gilner checks himself into a local psychiatric hospital at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, worried that he's only a stray thought or two away from doing something really stupid. He'll get some help there, he figures. Maybe some stronger meds than the Zoloft he's been taking. Then he'll be back home in time for school on Monday.
But the minimum stay is five days—and the door's already banged shut behind him. Worse, the teen wing is being renovated, so he'll have to stay with the adult patients. It only takes Craig about 10 seconds to realize just how much he doesn't need to be committed.
Based on 29-year-old writer Ned Vizzini's 2006 novel, It's Kind of a Funny Story is a semiautobiographical tale of how a teenager learns that the stresses of life, love and school are more conquerable—or at least more manageable—than he thought.
Once he lives for a few days with people who have serious illnesses and problems, Craig gradually steps beyond his teenage angst. He notices the plights of others and tries to help them instead of wallowing in his own mostly self-induced misery. Indeed, the film ends with him informing us that after he got out, he regularly returned as a volunteer.
Bobby is the first patient he meets. He's jovial, friendly and wise to tell Craig that his teenaged troubles aren't nearly as severe as they feel. He "orders" his young "charge" not to live in fear, and he says he would really live life like it meant something if he were in Craig's shoes. Craig returns the favor by encouraging his new friend, kindly prodding him to try just a little harder for the sake of his family—especially his young daughter.
The rest of the patients are usually supportive of one another and welcoming of Craig. They band together and have fun when possible. One man sincerely tells Craig that if he doesn't open up and communicate his feelings, he'll never heal. Similarly, a psychiatrist stresses the importance of friends and having a healthy support system.
Muqtada, Craig's roommate, is a chronically depressed middle-aged Egyptian who rarely leaves his bed. So Craig encourages him to see the possibilities beyond their room, and then he "smuggles" in a special album of Egyptian music to play so the man will want to dance. Craig also provides money so the ward can have a much anticipated pizza party.
Craig naturally falls for Noelle, another teen on the floor, who is there for her cutting habit. Her sassy good looks and wit quickly steal Craig's heart, and the two do a lot for each other's confidence and hope for the future. Craig tells Noelle that he likes her because she's open and honest, not hiding her problems as so many others in their stressed-out, appearance-driven world do.
A psychiatrist quotes the Serenity Prayer. Craig mentions being "born again," then quickly backtracks and says he didn't mean it in a religious sense.
Craig's had a crush on his best friend's girlfriend, Nia, for years. And after she breaks up with his friend, she visits Craig at the hospital. Her cleavage is shown in close-up as he stares. Then she pushes him onto a bed and climbs on top of him. They're interrupted, but not before she gushes about how exciting it is to "do it" in a hospital.
Of note is the fact that a patient says he placates women by telling them he loves them. So Craig tries the trick out when Nia turns on him.
Male and female genitalia are crudely mentioned, and Craig says he has an erection. A patient talks about having had many women, calling himself a crass name. A teacher in a dream sequence talks about students "getting laid." Bestiality is briefly joked about.
Bobby tells Craig that instead of attending summer school he should be "bird-dogging chicks." The ward's shower doesn't have a lock, and a woman walks in on Craig. (We see his bare shoulders and her surprised face.) Craig pictures Nia in a bathtub, her head and toes exposed. He sketches Noelle in the nude. (She's posing for him, positioned behind his canvas.) Angry with him, Noelle quickly draws a representation of a penis and shoves it under the door to Craig. One of the patients is said (and shown) to be transsexual.
Noelle asks Craig if he's a virgin. They share a tender kiss.
Suicide and cutting are central to the plot. In his dream, Craig walks on a steel beam over traffic. He falls inadvertently … and wakes before impact.
Frustrated and in a rage, Bobby rips books out of a bookcase, yelling. Teens play a game revolving around celebrity suicides.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word and three s-words. God's name is misused a half-dozen times. Jesus' name is abused once. Other language includes "d‑‑k," "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "douche bag."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Bobby tells Craig that Solomon, a Hasid, is part of a roller-skating gang of Jews who drop acid. It's said that Solomon dropped 100 tabs of LSD in one night. In Craig's imagination Solomon is seen passed out among his fellow wheeled gang members.
Somebody asks if Craig has access to beer. Another boy smokes a cigarette, and Bobby asks Craig for one. (He doesn't have any.) Cocktails are shown in an imaginary sequence.
Patients receive medication—with a few being too medicated to participate in group activities. Bobby and Craig bribe a hospital custodian with stolen medication to let them off their floor undetected.
Other Negative Elements
When especially nervous, Craig projectile vomits. We see this graphically depicted several times, including during dinner with his parents and when making out with Nia. A patient swallows a dollar bill and then gives it to someone after it's passed through his system. (It's apparently been cleaned.)
A woman tells Bobby that she and their daughter would be better off if he were dead, berating him in front of their child.
A man calls a patient "schizo," and Craig's friends consider the residents odd. Nia grimaces in disgust, saying one of them is "weird." It could be argued that mental illnesses are also made light of by how easily and quickly Craig rallies some of his new compatriots after they've spent years suffering from deep depression.
His friends look at him like he's an alien. He can't get a girlfriend. His father isn't especially supportive. His mom is overly fragile. There's the threat of national economic ruin and war. And don't even get Craig started on what'll happen to him if he doesn't get into a prestigious college.
When talking to his psychiatrist, Craig says he doesn't quite understand what's going on in his life, but "it feels big." And then he's shown how lucky he is and how easy his life is by living for five short days with a group of really hurting people.
Well on his way to being cured of his teenage self-centeredness, he proceeds to tell the doctor that, considering the countless people struggling with problems bigger than his, it's self-indulgent of him not to appreciate what he has. And he's realizing that, though his dilemmas are real, he is capable of managing them.
Since story author Vizzini himself had a stress-induced nervous breakdown at age 23, this understated commentary on how hard it is to be a teenager (or adult) is no doubt a point he and directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck wanted to make. They want us to see how Craig overcomes the pressures of life long enough to graduate from scared pre-suicidal adolescent to hospital hero in five days, having helped or been helped by virtually everyone he's met there. They want us to see it so much, in fact, that they've risked a pat ending to pound their point home. And then they self-consciously mock that ending when Craig comments on how unlikely his and the ward's transformation is.
Maybe they shouldn't have pulled their punch. Because there's a lot to like about seeing Craig's heart soften and his fear fade. As he says, his problems aren't solved once he's discharged. The difference is that now, having had his eyes opened to the pain of others, he sees and appreciates the good things in his life. He can face and endure obstacles while searching for alternative routes. And he wants to reach out to and help others who struggle as he has. So while the film feels manufactured at times, includes stock PG-13 profanity and drags as often as it connects, Craig's final frame of mind is a place many of us hope to be.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Keir Gilchrist as Craig Gilman; Zach Galifianakis as Bobby; Emma Roberts as Noelle; Viola Davis as Dr. Minerva; Lauren Graham as Lynn; Jim Gaffigan as George; Zoë Kravitz as Nia; Jeremy Davies as Smitty; Bernard White as Muqtada
Anna Boden ( ), Ryan Fleck ( )
October 8, 2010
February 8, 2011