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Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's third feature is a vibrant, life-asserting dramedy set in a New York psychiatric ward.
They did it to the 'inspirational teacher' subgenre in their first feature Half Nelson (2006), and to the 'true underdog' sports film in their follow-up Sugar (2008) - and now, once again, writer/director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck turn a recognisable genre on its head with It's Kind Of A Funny Story, finding human insight and social realism in the most conventional of materials.
Based on Ned Vizzini's semi-autobiographical novel from 2006, the film is set in a hospital's adult psychiatric floor, but avoids the claustrophobic brand of gothic associated with films like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) or Shutter Island (2010) by focusing somewhat breezily on a 16-year-old's coming of age in an adult world. This is a study of mental illness with an unexpectedly romantic twinkle in its eye and a feel-good kick in its adolescent step - but don't be too taken in by all the manic montages, the vibrant flights of fancy and ADHD stylings.
Stressed, depressed teen Craig (Keir Gilchrist) may be only a five-day tourist on the psych ward, but his rapid road to love (with Emma Roberts' Noelle), greater self-awareness and a more positive outlook on the future will bring him into contact with other, older patients - like the cripplingly agoraphobic Muqtada or the suicidal Bobby (Zach Galifianakis in a career-best performance) - for whom the hospital exit is either a revolving door, or a step too far.
Boden and Fleck expertly negotiate the fine line between sunny optimism and deepest despair, as Craig's emergence into a renewed love for life is offset by the rather different kind of departure that is delicately hinted for another main character.
It's funny alright, but only kind of, as Boden and Fleck bring a refreshing dose of coming-of-age themes to the asylum genre.
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