Suicidal New York teenager Craig Gilner checks himself into a hospital psych ward, hoping for a quick fix to his adolescent problems in “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”
The title is an apt description of Craig’s five-day, mental-health adventure in this appealing dramedy from the filmmaking team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, who previously made the highly praised “Half Nelson” and “Sugar.”
While films such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” have also coaxed laughs from mental asylums, few have done so in such a gentle humanistic way. It’s hard to imagine anyone being offended by a movie that has such affection for its off-kilter characters.
Keir Gilchrist, best known as the gay son in TV’s “United States of Tara,” plays the troubled 16-year-old who ends up in the adult ward because the youth facility is temporarily closed. There he meets a collection of zany patients, including a phobic Egyptian who never leaves his room, a Hasidic Jew who can hear a pin drop 100 yards away and Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), an aimless father who can’t cope with life outside the hospital.
Bobby starts out as Craig’s mentor, explaining things like the arcane points system that rewards patients with special privileges. But the roles are soon reversed when Craig helps nervous Bobby prepare for an interview that will determine whether he’s released into a group home.
Craig also bonds with Noelle (Emma Roberts), a self-mutilating teenager with a scarred cheek, while still harboring a crush on his best buddy’s girlfriend (Zoe Kravitz).
Fleck and Boden delicately balance the grim and light-hearted aspects of the story. Along with delusional patients and talk of suicide, there’s a joyous pizza party and a dream sequence where Craig performs as a punk rocker.
Gilchrist emits a sweet innocence and Galifianakis, who had a breakout role in “The Hangover,” shows he can handle drama as well as comedy.
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” from Focus Features, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***
“Tamara Drewe” may be the best advertisement for nose jobs I’ve ever seen.
In Stephen Frears’s new movie, Gemma Arterton (“Quantum of Solace”), plays a former ugly duckling whose new schnoz transforms her into a beauty. When she returns to the bucolic English village where she grew up, Tamara’s allure triggers a three-man pursuit for her affections -- a celebrity novelist (Roger Allam), a handsome handyman (Luke Evans) and a narcissistic rock drummer (Dominic Cooper).
This modern version of “Far From the Madding Crowd” is based on Posy Simmonds’s graphic novel, a comic-strip compilation in turn inspired by Thomas Hardy’s novel.
Small-town jealousies and gossip, much of it fueled by a couple of bored teenagers (Charlotte Christie and Jessica Barden), bolster the humorous tone. Still, this comedy of manners is ultimately as artificial as Tamara’s nose.
“Tamara Drewe,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **
‘We Know It’
In “Life as We Know It,” Katherine Heigl plays a smart, gorgeous and successful single woman who meets an obnoxious guy. They fuss and feud before eventually falling in love.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that plot would also describe three of Heigl’s other romantic comedies: “27 Dresses,” “The Ugly Truth” and “Knocked Up.” Heigl appears to be stuck in a rom-com version of “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same movie over and over.
There isn’t one surprising or original moment in this latest film, in which she’s a cafe owner whose life is turned upside down when her best friends, a couple with a baby daughter, are killed in a car accident. She and Eric (Josh Duhamel), an aspiring TV sports director with whom she once had a disastrous date, are named as the child’s guardians in the will and are forced to live together as replacement parents.
What follows is a series of lame jokes about baby poop, Eric’s playboy lifestyle and hash brownies, leading to the inevitable ending. The problem with “Life as We Know It” is that we know it all before it even begins.
“Life as We Know It,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)