In the first place, it isn't. "It's Kind of a Funny Story," that is. Most of what is supposed to pass for humor in this picture comes from the patients in a New York City psych ward. Look at the funny old schizophrenic shouting out non sequiturs at inopportune moments. See the two patients get into a fight over a breakfast burrito. My sides are splitting.
Of course, it always could be worse. If the movie doesn't exactly fly over the cuckoo's nest, it doesn't crash into it, either.
Sixteen-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist, TV's "United States of Tara"), beset by the intolerable pressures of grades, love, parents and other of the common ingredients of teenage angst " I'll forgive you if you think the kid's presented as something of a wuss " checks himself into the hospital. He thinks the doctor will give him a prescription for Zoloft and send him home.
Instead, he's committed himself to a week of observation, to be spent in the adult section. Craig's a little scared by this, but we soon see that his new pals are just lovable loonies. Hell, after no interview at all by anyone on the hospital staff, he's even sent immediately to share a room. I guess everyone thinks he looks harmless. You know, like Ted Bundy.
He quickly meets Bobby (Zach Galifianakis, "Dinner for Schmucks"), a six-time suicide attempter who appears to be about 90-percent normal from the neck up.
Then Craig meets and falls for Noelle (Emma Roberts, "Valentine's Day"), a cutter who appears to become cured by his presence. The two share secrets and histories and, as luck would have it, turn out to be exactly what the other needs. Aren't we lucky that life turns out that way so often?
By the end of Craig's week, he's learned that he didn't have it so bad after all, that his parents aren't really all that terrible, that his pals back in high school are pretty OK, and that all mental patients really need is love and empathy. And lots of medication.
The film was adapted from a novel by Ned Vizzini and co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (he directed "Half Nelson," which they co-wrote). As directors, Boden and Fleck avoided the biggest mistake they could have made, which would have been casting Michael Cera in the lead. The actual leads are fine.
Galifianakis is on quite a roll right now, and I hope he doesn't become overexposed, thereby setting himself off on the Jack Black Road to Irrelevance. Other notable performances come from Viola Davis ("Eat Pray Love") as psychiatrist Dr. Minerva, Jeremy Davies (TV's "Lost") as one of her staff, and Matthew Mayer ("The Killer Inside Me") as one of Bobby's buddies.
There's a hollowness at the center of this film, as if its makers wanted to create something different from the run of standard psychiatric-hospital dramadies, but couldn't help falling back on the clich