By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin October 8, 2010 at 3:59AM
I’ve been impressed with the filmmaking team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck since I saw their bold, original debut feature Half-Nelson, with Ryan Gosling, which was adapted from a short subject they made two years earlier. Their followup film, Sugar, about a baseball player from the Dominican Republic, revealed that they weren’t one-hit wonders, and didn’t intend to fall prey to formulaic storytelling. Their new film seemed equally promising; while I usually try to avoid trailers I happened to see this one, and it—
—whet my appetite to see It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
Boden and Fleck adapted the popular juvenile novel by Ned Vizzini about a 16-year-old boy who feels so stressed-out that he considers committing suicide, but checks himself into a hospital instead. He soon learns that his problems don’t amount to much compared to the deeply troubled people around him.
Funny Story has a strong cast, led by Keir Gilchrist (of the TV series The United States of Tara), the likable Zach Galifianakis, Viola Davis, the appealing Emma Roberts, Jeremy Davies, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, and Zoë Kravitz. Sorry to say, the filmmakers run aground trying to strike a balance between comedy and drama, and worse, resort to clichés in their storytelling—including a dream music-video sequence that does nothing to enhance the film or illuminate the hero’s state of mind.
Call it Cuckoo’s Nest-lite, if you like, but Funny Story only skims the surface of its serious subject matter, like an earnest After-School Special. Several characters and relationships are woefully underwritten and obvious topics go unexplored.
I’m afraid I have to call this a misfire, but it doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Boden and Fleck. I hope they chalk this up to experience and find another challenging story to tell, in their own style.