Greetings again from the darkness. Attended a screening last evening and came away a bit surprised. The preview, thanks in part to Ida Maria’s blaring song “Oh My God”, had me convinced this was going to be a typical slapstick teen comedy. Instead, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck deliver a black comedy-drama that has appeal to both teens and grown-ups. (based on the Ned Vizzini novel)
The story revolves around Craig, a 16 year old who is feeling depressed and suicidal given the pressures of a relentless father, looming college entrance exams and a screwed up social life. You are right if you are thinking this sounds like just about every 16 year old on the planet. The difference here is that Craig checks himself into a psych ward … he ends up in the adult wing, since the teen wing is undergoing renovations. Craig is played by Keir Gilchrist (The United States of Tara), who I can best describe as a young Keanu Reeves clone, only too smart rather than too clueless.
Since this is part comedy, you can imagine the characters who fill the ward. Craig bonds with Bobby, played by Zach Galifianakis, who seems happy to play the mentor role (quoting Dylan) for Cool Craig, but just can’t seem to find the strength to live his own life. Of course, we also get the emotionally damaged hot girl played exceptionally well by Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric, niece of Julia; Nancy Drew). The film accepts its own stereotypes for the other characters with labels such as “the schizophrenic”.
The message of the film seems to be that we all go through stages of doubt and uncertainty, and the best “cure” is to somehow remove the stress and discover our real talents and personality. You may end up creating art in the form of a brain map, or even a music video of Bowie/Queen’s “Under Pressure” (an elaborate inset to the film). Just live.
The filmmakers evidently struggled with where their line was for the direction of the story. With previous serious films Half-Nelson and Sugar, my guess is their vision was a much more complex and darker script rather than the final version which has more mass appeal. The Zach Galifianiakis character specifically, seemed poised to make a real statement. Instead we are left with his reserved, knowing smile as Craig presents him a gift and the hope of getting together for ping pong. Also, not much story is given to Emma Roberts and her penchant for cutting herself. She seems magically cured after a roof top encounter with Craig. Anyway, the comedy sections are more successful than the drama sections, provided you are able to find humor in the illness and weakness of others.
This is certainly not at the level of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it is an entertaining film from a comedic perspective. It will probably be remembered as Zach Galifianiakis fist role where he flashed some real acting chops, and hopefully as Emma Roberts breakout role.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy humor derived from the darker elements of life OR you want to say “I was there” when Zach Galifianakis proved he could do more than smirk.
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you think a movie should be either a comedy or drama, not both OR hearing the opening riff to “Under Pressure” causes flashbacks to Vanilla Ice explaining how he didn’t sample the song.