With films like “Half Nelson” and “Sugar,” writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have established themselves as a potent indie filmmaking duo.
So it’s kind of disappointing that their latest project, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” doesn’t quite live up to its promise. Despite some good work from Zach Galifianakis and strong individual moments, “Story” never quite clicks - mainly because it tries too hard to be an indie darling.
“Story” follows Craig (Keir Gilchrist), a New York teen stressing over his future, his love life, his family - all the normal problems that teens face. When his depression has him contemplating suicide, he checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward.
Once admitted, Craig finds himself drawn to Bobby (Galifianakis), an older patient who quickly becomes Craig’s mentor and prot/g/, and to Noelle (Emma Roberts), an insecure teenage girl who shows Craig that romance can come in unexpected places.
Boden and Fleck try really hard to make this work, and while the premise does have promise, that promise is never fulfilled.
Gilchrist just doesn’t have the screen presence to pull off the lead. His performance is quite bland, especially surrounded by a supporting cast that gets more to do.
I was really impressed with Galifianakis, who shows a more dramatic side. It’s a role that has some of the same ticks as his previous work in “The Hangover” and the soon-to-be-released “Due Date,” but it is deeper. I think Galifianakis has a future beyond comedy.
Roberts is also good, although her role is smaller than it should be.
When Galifianakis and Roberts are on screen, “It’s a Funny Kind of Story” is at its best. But Boden and Fleck’s decision to fill out the psychiatric ward with a basket of quirky characters screams desperation. It’s the film’s fatal flaw, making “Story” one of those independent films that want to be accepted, but try way too hard to not be conventional - ironic, considering the end result is pretty pedestrian.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Toy Story 3” (A), the latest from Pixar that has something for everyone and is among the best major American studio releases I’ve seen in 2010.
“Toy Story 3” picks up with Andy about to head to college, leaving Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the toys concerned about their future.
When the toys are accidentally donated to a day care, most are happy with the idea of having children around who will play with them again. That joy quickly fades when they discover they are under the ruthless dictatorship of Lots-O-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty) - a strawberry-scented stuffed bear who forces the newer toys to remain in the playroom with the younger children.
It doesn’t take long before Andy’s toys band together, hatching an escape plan to get them back to Andy’s home.
There is so much to like about “Toy Story 3.” For starters, Michael Arndt and John Lasseter’s screenplay once again captures the innocence of this toy world but doesn’t play down to its audience. There are plenty of laughs for the kids, while adults will be entertained as well. Perhaps the best running gag in the movie is the on-again, off-again relationship between Barbie (Jodi Benson) and Ken (Michael Keaton) that delightfully plays off Ken’s androgynous stereotype. I can’t think of many films released this year with writing as smart as “Toy Story 3” - both a credit to this film and a sad commentary on the state of Hollywood in general.
The film also works as an action movie, with a clever escape sequence that plays a lot like the animated film “Chicken Run,” which itself was a clever take on the popular film “The Great Escape.”
Those two reasons alone make “Toy Story 3” worthy of its predecessors, but the film also has an emotional and heart-tugging final act that brought back memories of last year’s Pixar entry “Up.”
That film was rewarded with a Best Animated Feature Oscar and a Best Picture nomination as well. I think “Toy Story 3” deserves the same fate - a fitting climax to a great American trilogy.
“Toy Story 3” is rated G and is now available on DVD.
— To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.