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.