Maybe it’s because I also watched “Titicut Follies” for the first time this week, but I could not buy into the happy-go-lucky patient pageantry of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” The adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s semi-autobiographical novel, which disappointed at the box office and now arrives on video, where it will likely find a more passively appreciable audience, is kind of insulting to the reality of mental illness and general psychological suffering. It’s a teen fantasy in which a young hero (Keir Gilchrist) finds colorful new friends and acceptance of that sort of social misfit drop-out attitude that inspires so many people to believe the homeless and disturbed are where they are because they want to be.
Both knowing that Vizzini based the book on his own temporary experience in a psych hospital (in his 20s) and the way in which the film has Gilchrist narrate the film implies that the whole story occurs for the sake of a story. In the same way many war films feature voice-over provided by the novelist-aspiring will-be-survivor as if every wannabe author needs to enlist for the sake of his craft (most great writers do have war stories, after all), “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” comes across as the tale of a humbly smart and spoiled kid who is otherwise too privileged to have good life experiences to mine from. So he commits himself for inspiration.
What else does that sound like? “The Devil Wears Prada,” and its copycat memoirs that involve a young writer in pursuit of a memorable and (more importantly) pop-culturally relevant breakthrough (think also another alternative title: How to Win Friends By Alienating Yourself). Vizzini doesn’t go to work for Anna Wintour or Graydon Carter. Instead gives us a modern “Girl, Interrupted,” almost in order to align the 2000s with the 1960s, especially since it taps into illness caused by the Patriot Act and other stressful issues of the era. Some of these themes are interesting, such as the commentary on the NYC public school system, but occasionally it just feels like “Ferris Bueller’s Week Off at the Mental Hospital” and in that regard you may get angry with the protagonist for not allowing himself to at least be Cameron to his best friend’s Ferris. As that friend says, his problem is that he never just “chills.” And that’s true. The kid has white people problems and really needs to get over himself.
Girls and grades and college applications. How many other kids suffering these common pressures combined with too much contemplation of the world issues of the day will see “Funny Story” and want to follow this kid’s lead and “drop out” for a while, to the safe, friendly and romantic environment of a mental hospital? Sure, the reality is not as bad as “Titicut” anymore, but I can’t imagine it’s as fun and Zach Galifianakis-y as this movie depicts it. When I was a depressed teen and feeling misunderstood and overwhelmed, I wondered about this sort of alternative, too. I also was even told by someone close that jail is similarly great because you get a free roof over your head and daily meals. The army also promised such luxuries to someone short on direction, motivation and responsibility. All of these might apparently have given me a publishing deal — or deeper psychological problems, or both. Oh well.
After word gets out that this kid is in the mental hospital, a friend tells him he’s suddenly a kind of “rock star.” Well, I guess it did work for Billy Joel? And to a lesser extent Vizzini?