© 2010Big Empire Industries and Randy Shandis Enterprises
Every right imaginable is reserved.


This week:
It's Kind of a Funny Story

Filthy says:
"No, it's not."

In the movies, kids from New York are always precocious, hyperverbal little shits with overblown emotional problems. Is that all the city offers? That and Ray's Famous Pizza? Aren't any of the kids normal, doing normal shit, aren't declared geniuses and have real issues, instead of the phony-baloney horseshit imagined by self-absorbed moviemakers?

These kids aren't characters; they're mediocre screenwriters' delusional fantasies of the next Holden Caulfield. Flicks like Igby Goes Down, Rocket Science and now It's Kind of a Funny Story tend to be too navel-gazing, precious and gentle toward their main characters to mean anything. The writers, directors and actors, are too in love with their own assumed brilliance, projected onto the kids. I didn't know J. D. Salinger, but I think he'd rip out these filmmakers eyes and shit in their sockets. I also believe he lived in a survivalist bunker in the woods of Georgia, eating bears he caught with his bare hands and making his own hallucinogenics from the bones of trespassers. And his morning glass of milk came from cats.

Holden Caulfield is real. He wasn't worshipped by Salinger. I think Salinger wrote him as fallible, fucked up and exasperating. Just not as much as the world around him. That's why Caulfield is so damn great. That's also why he's imitated so often, yet almost always misunderstood. Everybody I have known who thought he was Holden Caulfield was not; if you think you're like him, you're automatically wrong.

The creators of the imitations love them too much to make them as good or pure as Holden Caulfield. The audience ends up with twee little pricks too passive and mopey to be worth two shits in a one-stall outhouse. That's the main problem with It's Kind of a Funny Story. Well, besides that it isn't kind of, or barely funny. This is dull and schmaltzy stuff wrapped around a character that its director/writer combo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck think is something unique and terrific, but played with a droopy lack of charisma by Keir Gilchrist.

Gilchrist plays a lovesick teenager who gets himself admitted to a looney bin to avoid the pressures of being another brilliant New York teen with a demanding dad and a broken heart. Both of these motivators are as trite and predictable as you'd expect. The audience is supposed to suspend disbelief that, in Brooklyn, a very normal kid with pretty fucking typical problems (he hasn't even attempted suicide) can get a stay in a psych ward when there are about a million people on the streets wearing underwear on their heads and talking to fire hydrants. Once admitted, he comes out of his shell, thanks to the other textbook-wacky residents and the hot chick with a cutting problem.

In the nuthouse, Gilchrist discovers he doesn't want to be a wall street titan like his father (how fucking profound!). He instead realizes he wants to be an artist! On this cornball journey, he encounters a band of nutjobs so cute, harmless and wacky they should have their own sitcom. There is the woman who went paranoid cuckoo after 9/11, the guy who eats a dollar bill, the fat, slovenly man who fancies himself a ladies man, the Hasidic Jew with sensitive ears, the schizophrenic who shouts out shit, and the recluse roommate that Gilchrist pulls out of his shell. They are all trite and shopworn, examples of crazy people taken from a movie on Lifetime or the Hallmark channel. Or imagined by filmmakers whose only real experience with mental illness is what they've seen on TV.

The distinct wacko is played by Zach Galifianakis, a depressed father who has tried to kill himself six times. One of the movie's mysteries is supposed to be why he is in the nuthouse. Personally, I didn't give a fuck. Like the other characters, he wasn't deep enough to think about. He takes Gilcrhist under his wing, so you know that even though he is nuts and says stupid stuff, he will shed profound wisdom like a sheepdog does hair. I never really figured out what that wisdom was, but the movie assured me it had been shed and that Gilchrist was better for wearing intellectual corduroys to catch it all. Conversely, the man learns from the teen. They teach each other what's important in life. Blah, blah, blah. Insert rote revelations here.

The other character we're supposed to give a shit about is Emma Roberts as the cute girl institutionalized for cutting her arms and face. Seriously? This character is about as thin as the sheetmetal on a Fiat. She's supposed to be self-loathing, yet she sends neatly written notes that display more self-assurance than a banker's convention. "Meet me at seven p.m." she writes to Gilchrist at their first encounter. What self-doubting teen girl writes shit like that, as though she can be certain enough she won't be rejected? More likely, a sad girl mumbles into her shoulder, "So, like, I might be at that bench tonight, maybe, I don't know. I don't care. Whatever," softly enough that if he doesn't show she can convince herself he didn't hear her. Throughout the script, Roberts' character has no room to be human. She's too busy acting like no teen girl I ever met. Her point is not be a person but a tool to make Gilchrist feel good.

A fine example of the cheesy phoniness of It's Kind of a Funny Story is in Gilchrist's shut-in Egyptian roommate. The character is so depressed he stays under the covers, never leaving his bed. That is, until Gilchrist suggests he go out and see the world. That's pretty much all it takes to get the hermit out and about. I guess the doctors never though of that approach. In the movie's climax, Gilchrist lures the recluse out to dance at a pizza party by providing an Egyptian long-playing record to the deejay. See, kids? Mental problems are easy to fix.

As with all pat stories, everyone ends up happy. Gilchrist gets to be an artist and make out with Roberts instead of being a stressed-out facsimile of his dad. Unfortunately, he still isn't interesting. Galifianakis gets to move to a group home and see his daughter. The other nutjobs get a pizza party. Gilchrist makes a brief speech about how he knows this isn't the end of his problems and he isn't cured. The point of that speech, however, is actually to say, "I'm cured now, see, because I know I still have problems, but now my struggles are going to be fun!" The sentiment is as cheap and tacky as a birthday card bought in a liquor store.

Ultimately, It's Kind of a Funny Story is too fucking easy and cheap and unfunny. Plus, it's about a normal kid with normal problems, played by an actor who does nothing to make them unique. Gilchrist mostly stares at the screen, his eyes and mouth too dim to portray the intelligence that Boden and Fleck want to be there but didn't manage to put into the script. The kid's no fucking Caulfield and his creators are no Salinger. Two Fingers for It's Kind of a Funny Story.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Sandie Newton of CBS

It's Kind of a Funny Story is "This generation's Ferris Bueller's Day Off! One of my favorite films of the year! Smart, sweet and very powerful. Don't miss it!"

Dear This Generation, you got robbed.

Filthy's Reading
Shirley Jackson - Novels and Stories

Listening to
Eels - Tomorrow Morning


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban