Except he doesn’t want them to tell his parents, and he especially doesn’t want to miss any school, lest they find out where he is and he’ll be “labeled” forever.
Of course, once he’s officially incarcerated, that’s exactly what happens. They first call his parents, who rush over all concerned and solicitous, but strangely encouraging, as if his hints at suicidal feelings were far too much for them to bear, and maybe these nice people can help you, dear. Would you like for us to bring you a toothbrush and a change of clothes?
Craig’s best friend makes fun of him. His little sister wants to know if she can have his room. The girl he has a crush on has taken up with his best friend, and now they both ignore him, and worse, once they find out, they tell all their other friends. His parents are putting lots of pressure on him to make certain grades that would make him eligible for a certain scholarship so he can go to a certain school, but Craig’s not certain he wants any of it. He’s so bummed out that he can’t keep any food down, and suffers from stress-induced projectile vomiting. He doesn’t think he belongs in an insane asylum with all the paranoid schizophrenics and the extreme agoraphobics who won’t leave their bed, but he finds a strange comfort in meeting people who are fully as dysfunctional as he is.
There are a couple of secondary performances that steal this movie. Zach Galifianakis plays Bobby, a fellow “client” who seems refreshingly candid, and relatively functional, until he isn’t. Viola Davis plays the staff psychiatrist in such an empathetic and convincing way that you want to call her office immediately and see if she has an appointment available tomorrow.
For Craig, the breath of fresh air is Noelle (Emma Roberts), who bears the scars of her own suicidal impulses, but she’s obviously bright, and seems as eager to make a connection with him as he is to flirt with her. We, of course, root for them not only to find a way to be with each other, but to find their way out of there, as well: and not just the temporary escapes that Bobby leads to the upper floors, a behavior so easily accomplished that we wonder if it isn’t part of the therapy, as a test to see how badly the clients really do want to leave.
There’s some wry humor here, but this is definitely not a comedy. They aren’t trying to make us laugh, they’re pointing out to us the debilitating angst of being a teenager today (and our absurd expectations), but at the same time presenting the idea to all of us that in the end, it’s about deciding to embrace all your feelings, and own all your experiences, and count as valuable both every success and every failure, because they all compose the fabric of our very selves. “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” despite being about depression, is more life-affirming than depressing, and successfully quirky, besides.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.