The writers of It's Kind of a Funny Story have made it difficult to describe the film without making it sound like a complete downer. It's the hilarious tale of a suicidal young man who . . . No, it's a laugh-a-minute romp set in a mental institution with . . . No, it's the heartwarming story of what happens when a kid under tremendous pressure to succeed finally snaps . . . No.
Anyway, it's all of those things, but don't let that put you off. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's comedy follows Craig (Kier Gilchrist), a student at one of those ultra-competitive prep schools that looks like a continuously convening session of the junior United Nations. And Craig has a problem: He's not temperamentally cut out to be an executive, like his parents want. He's more of a gentle soul, and all the jockeying for position among his friends leaves him confused and tense-as does his beautiful friend Nia (Zoe Kravitz), who teases him but dates his best friend.
All of this leads pretty directly to Craig, go-getter that he is, checking himself into a mental institution before he has the chance to harm himself or others. The five-day stay throws Craig into contact with several of the other inpatients, adults and high-schoolers like himself. Most interesting of these is Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), a 30-something basket case who's trying to get his life back on track so he can spend time with his daughter.
It's something of a relief to report that the message of this PG-13 movie is less "be yourself" than "helping other people is good for you." The movie is one of the few films marketed to high-schoolers that might actually appeal to them, with a terrific music video sequence in the middle where each character's disability is transformed into a glam-rock costume option.
There's a little swearing, a make-out scene that goes immediately and hilariously wrong, and the threat of violence, mostly against oneself. But mostly it's a family movie that addresses a lot of hard issues, but remains a family movie.