Anna Boden's and Ryan Fleck's It's Kind of a Funny Story, based on the book by Ned Vizzini (which I read after seeing the movie), is an interesting, positive mental-health comedy/drama which doesn't trip itself up too bad trying very hard to avoid mental-health movie traps.
The film's main character is a smart, funny and unfortunately suicidally depressed teen named Craig (Keir Gilchrist, excellent) who's quite luckily smart enough to know when he's in trouble. Instead of acting out his serious depressive episode in any harmful ways, he checks himself into the local hospital.
What he doesn't quite understand is that once you're in the door, you get to stay awhile. Overwhelmed with his feelings one night, he feels better the next day, as expected, but it's too late to un-commit himself, so he's in for a few days at least. Another thing he didn't know beforehand is that the teen mental health ward is being renovated, so teens and adults are being housed together in the regular unit. So there is no inmate so disturbed or diminished that he will not have to look at them, and interact on some level.
One of the first people he meets is Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, very good), a trusty who shows him around and spends a lot of his time talking with Craig about a lot of things. Bobby has been around the block, he's got the hospital wired and he has a family he's disconnected from. His future, however, is up in the air.
Another major character at the hospital is Noelle (Emma Roberts, very good), a girl with some obvious and hidden scars. A couple of friends visit Craig in the hospital and figure large in his regular life, Aaron (Thomas Mann, good), who brings sounds of the outside world, and Nia (Zoe Kravitz, good), Aaron's girlfriend. Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan are standouts as Craig's parents, inside the narrative and in some dream sequences, as well.
Vizzini's book was written immediately after his own stay in a similar mental hospital. That it's hard to tell which parts, developments and characters might be more memoir than fiction is a tribute to it.
The book is a bit more tone-even than the movie, but if you love it when a film made from a book is quite faithful to its source material, this one's for you. Most of the action and dialogue in the film are taken straight from the book, with some rearranging and added scenes and lines, but not much.
Some ambiguous twists at the end fit in pretty well, but also seem just slightly off-kilter, more of a response to other cinematic renderings of people in mental institutions than necessarily just a fitting ending for this film.
On the other hand, I couldn't think of a better ending, upon reflection. I think this movie succeeds in general, but couldn't quite endorse it with four stars. It's realistic, kind of funny, maybe a bit too easy in places, but high-quality work and a really involving movie experience. Whether or not you've ever encountered similar depression or treatment for it, there's a very positive message here for you, and delivered well, not in so sickly sweet or manipulative a way that you'll feel like rejecting it offhand.
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