Zach Galifianakis fits right in as a patient in a Brooklyn loony bin in the gentle, the-kids-will-eventually-be-all-right drama It's Kind of a Funny Story. That's not because the star of The Hangover is doing his surrealistic, semi-stoned comedy thing here although as Bobby, one of the ward's more outsize personalities, he sometimes does. (The comic can't help it.) But rather, in keeping with the even-keeled and optimistic tone of this youth-oriented movie (written and directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, and based on Ned Vizzini's semiautobiographical young-adult novel of time spent in a similar struggle), the densely built and bearded Galifianakis demonstrates, in an impressive display of quieter dramatic skills, that he knows when to dial it down. From the minute Craig (United States of Tara's Keir Gilchrist), a possibly suicidal 16-year-old, checks himself in for safekeeping, Bobby keeps an avuncular eye on the nice, stressed-out kid. Craig also meets a nice, equally fragile girl (Emma Roberts) with whom he can share anxieties. And as if all this weren't lucky enough, Craig's empathetic shrink is played by Viola Davis although I miss the surprise of casting lesser-known actors, a specialty of the filmmakers in their outstanding previous features (Half Nelson and Sugar).
It's Kind of a Funny Story may be the first psych-ward drama to draw on John Hughes movies for tonal reference; the filmmakers have said that for inspiration they screened The Breakfast Club for the cast and crew. If the homage feels strained at times, the energy level is revived by the inclusion of some lovely visual and aural grace notes, including bits of sweet animation, music by Broken Social Scene, and the wacky sight of Galifianakis disguised in doctor scrubs. B