Film Review: ‘Funny Story’ looks at depression in young adults

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” focuses on the anxieties of a 16-year-old named Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist). The film opens with Craig narrating a suicide dream sequence. Fearful that he may have depression, he manages to get committed to a mental health clinic. Yo, a short stay in the nut house should do the trick, right?

Not so fast.

For starters the teen wing is undergoing renovation, so he ends up in an adult ward populated with some truly troubled people. He freaks out and demands a discharge.

There’s a five-day minimum!   Let the healing begin. Stuck in the clinic, Craig makes friends with Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), an adult with multiple suicide attempts on his resume, and Noelle, a fellow teen with multiple cuts on her face and wrists. The former serves as a mentor. The latter serves as a love interest.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is squarely aimed at young adults. It’s a teen romance with a public service message, that being: “Teen suicide is a lamentable problem that doesn’t seem to be going away.” Witness Rutgers student Tyler Clementi’s tragic plunge off the George Washington bridge on Sept. 22, Massachusetts teen Phoebe Prince hanging herself in January, and the remarkable spate of deaths in Palo Alto, Calif. last year in which five high school students committed suicide on the tracks of the local commuter rail in the course of just seven months. Palo Alto is arguably one of the nation’s most intense breeding grounds for youthful success and its issuant pressures, and as Craig tells us in goofy little flashbacks, that’s the kind of community he lives in too.  Like all teens, particularly troubled ones, he needs someone empathetic to listen and offer help. Craig is not being bullied at school, or having his intimate encounters broadcast on the Internet; his woes are sort of “depression lite” compared to these cases with national profiles. Given the Clementi case, you’d have understood if  the distributors had panicked and pulled It’s Kind of a Funny Story from its release date out of fear it might be considered seen as trivializing teen suicide. That’s a tough call; I’d say the message that gaining outside perspective on one’s problems can make a huge difference to a teenager isn’t a bad one to send out into the world at this point.