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.

Nov 17

“Birdman”: Does He Fly? (Reviews of the Film and a Non-Answer)

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, is getting a lot of critical love—for starters, it features several first-rate performances and is stylistically innovative. For me, on the other hand, the latter aspect actually ruled over substance, when I would usually prefer it the other way around.

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times:

Watching Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s multilayered ‘Birdman’ is like unfolding a piece of intricate origami; it keeps opening in unexpected directions. It’s a movie that can be appreciated on many levels simultaneously: as a backstage-at-the-theater comedy; as a literate and literary character study; as a remarkable achievement in cinematography (it’s filmed as to appear to be one unbroken two-hour shot); as a comment on the nature of contemporary entertainment; as a showcase for one of the year’s finest ensemble casts; and as a surreal tale of a man seeking his soul, with a final image so understated yet beautiful you may find yourself sitting still for a minute longer, happily taking it in.

THE PLOT

Tom Long, Detroit News:

So exhilarating it can be exhausting, ‘Birdman’…is a film that challenges, surprises and dazzles while still working at the edges of a frazzled mind.
That mind would belong to Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a movie star who long ago played a superhero character named Birdman to international acclaim before walking away from the franchise. Now he’s written an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story that he’s staging on Broadway, directing himself as the star, trying to reignite his career and validate his work…

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

Riggin’s costars in the stage play are Mike (Edward Norton), Lesley (Naomi Watts), and Laura (Andrea Riseborough). Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Ryan also have important roles.

BIRDMAN

Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail:

There’s one more important figure, the title character Birdman, Riggan’s superhero character from decades ago, who lives on as a growling negative voice inside the cracked actor’s head. Nothing’s necessarily entirely literal here, but Birdman is not just the garden variety voice of inner self-loathing…Riggan can move and destroy objects with his mind, rather than just smash them in a bad temper. His madness is distinctly thespian-centric: He believes he can will himself to be someone much greater than he is.

THE TRAILER (With Background Song “Crazy”)

SELECTED REVIEWS

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:

‘Birdman’ — full title ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),’ for reasons that become sort of, kind of, all right, not really clear — is a jaw-dropping stylistic wow that spins, pirouettes, turns inside out, and miraculously stays aloft for two hours.
It’s a backstage drama — correction: It’s a backstage middle-aged male freakout comedy-drama and, as such, possibly a guy’s answer to the anxieties of ‘All About Eve.’

Dana Stevens, Slate: “A movie that, while ultimately less satisfying than I hoped, features two breathtaking star turns: one from its lead actor and another from that camera, wielded by the indisputably magical Emmanuel Lubezki.”

Betsy SharkeyLos Angeles Times: “…(J)ust as the stage belongs to Riggan, ‘Birdman’ belongs to Keaton. It is one of those performances that is so intensely truthful, so eerily in the moment, so effortless in making fantasy reality, and reality fantasy, that it is hard to imagine Keaton will ever be better.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “With grandeur, giddiness and a humanistic nod toward transcendence, “Birdman” vividly evokes a time of equal parts possibility and terrifying uncertainty, and makes a persuasive case that, when the ground is shifting beneath your feet, the best thing to do is to take flight.”

Tom Long, Detroit News: “Can Riggan really fly? Can any of us? ‘Birdman’ doesn’t offer the answer, but revels in the question. Soar with it.”