CRAIG GILNER (Keir Gilchrist) is depressed and wants to end his life. Sort of. Before hurling himself into the East River, the 16-year-old Brooklynite resigns himself to a hospital visit, which in turn results in his temporary institutionalization in an adult psychiatric ward (the teenage ward, it so happens, is under renovation). Settled in for a five-day stay sans belt and shoelaces, Craig is quickly taken under the watchful guise of a bearded Randle P. McMurphy-type named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, great as always). Bobby shows him where the best coffee is, how to escape the premises in scrubs (the janitor loves pharmaceuticals), and doles out some life lessons along the way.
It's Kind of a Funny Story is a significant departure for co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the immensely talented duo whose two previous films involved Ryan Gosling huffing down rocks of crack (Half Nelson) and a young Dominican baseball player lost in America (the remarkable Sugar). Here they deal with a story far more earnest and light, despite its heavy subject matter. If you can look past the film's trivial dismissal of serious mental health issues (schizophrenics yell wacky things, let's laugh at them!), and a certain "Ferris Bueller in the loony bin" narration style, It's Kind of a Funny Story works extremely well.
Forced to come of age with a mouthful of Ativan, Craig's depression is triggered by a series of minor dilemmas—summer school application, his work-obsessed father, college plans—that pale in comparison to the mental strife of his ward mates. But for an institutionalized teen with a penchant for projectile vomiting when he's nervous, Craig's biggest problem is his completely unlikely predicament of choosing between two competing love interests: Noelle, the gorgeous cutter (Emma Roberts, as in Julia Roberts' niece), or his best friend, Nia (Zoë Kravitz, as in the spawn of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet).
Who does Craig choose? It doesn't really matter. The plot of It's Kind of a Funny Story takes a backseat to snappy dialogue, the sort of indie/twee art direction we've come to expect from a film like this, a soundtrack that could put Wes Anderson to shame, and Galifianakis' initial foray into the murky territory of dramatic actor. But don't worry: He still makes jokes about smelling like a hobo's Band-Aid.