Keir Gilchrist, left, and Zach Galifianakis star. (KC Bailey / Focus Features )
Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden may have set their new movie, "It's Kind of a Funny Story," amid the depressed and clinically insane of a psychiatric institution, but don't let the setting fool you. The movie is pure John Hughes.
The duo, who became darlings of the independent film world with their gritty Oscar-nominated drama "Half Nelson" and their understated immigrant story "Sugar," are here working with a larger budget and more name stars. But the same subtlety and humanist touches that gained them acclaim for their first two films are once again on display.
Craig ( Keir Gilchrist) is a teenage overachiever feeling overwhelmed by his life. So he checks himself into a mental hospital, where he meets an array of colorful but heartfelt characters, including a suicidal man in his 30s ( Zach Galifianakis) and a disaffected teenager ( Emma Roberts).
Straddling the line between comedy and drama — with a whimsical showstopping number evocative of the parade scene in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" — Fleck and Boden, working off a young-adult novel by Ned Vizzini, manage to tell an entertaining story that acts as a window into modern adolescence.
"The first thing we thought when we read the book is that this could be a modern-day John Huges film," Fleck says over lunch at a cafe in Brooklyn, where he and Boden live.
"There's something of 'The Breakfast Club' in it, where these characters are stuck together and forced to interact." Boden adds: "The thing about setting it in a mental hospital instead of high school is that it forces Craig to meet people he never would have met. It opens up his world."
With several scenes existing in the fantastical realm of Craig's mind, the movie does use more elaborate filmmaking techniques than Fleck and Boden are used to. But they still keep much of the action grounded in an emotional reality.
"What gets us excited is getting two actors in a room and finding they have amazing chemistry," Boden says.
Adds Fleck: "We spent a few days shooting in front of a green screen. We felt totally useless."
Opening: Oct. 8