Mar 28

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”: Depression, In Fact

Sometimes I just think depression’s one way of coping with the world. Like, some people get drunk, some people do drugs, some people get depressed. Because there’s so much stuff out there that you have to do something to deal with it. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story

In 2013 author Ned Vizzini died by suicide. He was 32 when he jumped off his parents’ roof in Brooklyn. He left behind a wife and young child.

One of his books, the 2004 sci-fi Be More Chill, has now become a Broadway musical, which has put the deceased author back in the news.

Vizzini had also written the bestselling Young Adult novel, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2006), based on his prior experience of checking himself into a psychiatric hospital after calling a suicide hotline. The catalyst: he’d had a dream about jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Athough his real-life five-day inpatient stint was helpful, Vizzini publicly admitted he continually had to work to manage his depression. In other words, the various forms of therapy he received over the years were not curative as much as guiding and supportive. A realistic way, actually, of viewing depression recovery.

In 2010 a film based on the book was released in theaters.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The Book

Tanya Lee Stone, New York Times, at the time of publication: “Laughter is one way to cope with pressure, and that’s what Ned Vizzini’s insightful and utterly authentic new novel is all about — the insidious kind of pressure teenagers face in a success-oriented society that values product over process, scores over scholarship and extracurriculars over extra innings.”

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The Film

The film It’s Kind of a Funny Story received so-so reviews from the critics. A.O. Scott, New York Times:The best I can say is that it’s kind of a good movie.” Viewers, on the other hand, have given it somewhat better marks overall.

From Scott’s synopsis:

Temperamentally disinclined to be melodramatic, Craig [Keir Gilchrist] is bothered by some of the usual stresses of modern adolescence. His selective public high school is a hothouse of academic pressure. He is obsessed with Nia (Zoë Kravitz), the girlfriend of his best pal, Aaron (Thomas Mann). And Craig’s well-meaning parents (Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan, with Dana De Vestern in tow as a funny-cute little sister) are not quite able to give him the support and sympathy he needs.

16-year-old Craig gets checked in to Argeron, the hospital. “Now Craig realizes,” notes “cinema therapist” Birgit Wolz, “that this is not as simple as chilling out for a while. He believes that he made a mistake when he discovers that checking in is much easier than checking out. To make matters worse, the youth psychiatric ward is undergoing renovations, and he is forced to stay in the adult unit with patients who are more seriously disturbed.”

Available now on DVD and elsewhere, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is previewed in the following trailer. Note that Zach Galifianakis was cast as a fellow inpatient. “As Bobby, the psych ward’s resident depressive-philosopher, Galifianakis works his character’s insights and neuroses like worry beads — effortlessly, unceasingly and to marvelous effect” (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times).

Additionally, there’s the bonus of Viola Davis as Dr. Minerva, a caring psychiatrist.

Feb 02

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”: A Critical and Personal View

I’d never read the 2005 novel on which the new movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) is based, but I’d seen theatrical previews several times and was eager for its arrival. Watch below, and maybe—or maybe not—you’ll agree:

From this trailer, I get that there’s a kid who knows he’s always been different from the other kids—but has the good fortune to have as his movie parents the loving Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. I see a kid who suffers a shocking and profound loss on 9/11—the death of his dad. Accustomed to doing various reconnaissance expeditions his dad had regularly directed for him, he then sets out on one of his own making to find the lock that a key of his father’s will open. He meets many strangers along the way, including Viola Davis and Max von Sydow, who also look like troubled souls.

Question for Some Research: Is this film really worthy of my attention or is the preview better than the movie itself?

A summary of problems I encounter:

For starters, many figurative tomatoes have been thrown at it on the popular movie review website—even by many of the “top critics.”

Next, the title. Critics find it highly mockable. Extremely this and incredibly that. I need not repeat any of the multiple variations on this theme. As you can make up your own without even seeing it, how extremely easy and incredibly unoriginal.

Third, the number of critics who find it either manipulative, contrived, exploitive, or all three, would astound even Oskar Schell, the 11-year-old protagonist of this film who actually likes to count things.

Finally, Oskar himself, as played by Thomas Horn, a real-life TV Jeopardy genius/winner. Several reviewers make a stink about disliking him. I wonder, though, while reading their harsh words, what it actually may say about the critics themselves. For instance, are they missing the possible nuances about being a special kid who might have Asperger’s? Are they aware but insensitive, uncaring, intolerant?

After all of the above, I consider not seeing it after all. But what about the advice Oskar has shared with us in the trailer? “Dad said, you can’t be afraid. Sometimes we have to face our fears.”

I see the movie.

The title twist I now most appreciate? Kelton SearsThe Spectator, calls it Extremely Honest and Incredibly Divisive. To his audience of college students who themselves were youngsters about Oskar’s age on 9/11/01:

For those who are ready to go back and take a second look at what happened, this film is spectacular and revelatory for the very same reason it is upsetting so many people. It takes the terrifying, upsetting, uncomfortable plunge, and it succeeds.

Sears also says:

…This film will rip your heart out—but it’s okay, because it finally gives meaning to a day that still hardly makes sense. This film reminds us that everyone has lost something.

But what about Oskar? Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly, for one, notes that there’s a mightily significant burden placed upon him:

…Here’s a tale that compacts the grief of an entire world, country, city, and thousands of loved ones left behind into the pain of one vulnerable, fictional boy.

And Rafer Guzman, Newsday:

Horn delivers a star turn as Oskar, a child trying to make sense of a tragedy that still baffles us all.

And me? I watched this intense and highly intelligent and hyper-focused boy methodically and painstakingly work and work and work towards making sense of his unfathomable grief and loss—and I never ever tired of taking the journey with him.