The current iteration of our traditional New Year’s Eve party was conceived exactly a decade ago, on the precipice of 2013 (a good year, for what it’s worth, and my fifteenth year overall). Though the guest list has shifted slightly over the years, a few elements have remained a consistent theme: We have Martinelli’s sparkling cider at the ready, blue sparkly Red Vines are provided with care (this is a creation we came up with ourselves; blue icing liberally applied to red licorice, topped with crunchy star sprinkles, a delicacy), and a DVD of It’s Kind of a Funny Story is popped in around 1:00AM.
I had never heard of It’s Kind of a Funny Story when it was suggested that we watch the film on January 1st, 2013. Apparently, most of my friends had already seen it and could quote the bonus features from memory. It had come out two years previously and quietly failed to make up its meager $8 million budget at the box office, despite having an impressive cast (Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Zach Galifianakis; even Lorelai Gilmore, the queen Laura Graham, is here). One of my friends had enjoyed the more successful Ned Vizzini novel the movie was based on, and purchased the DVD from our dying Blockbusters prior to it going under. Since then, she’d been steadily showing it to our friend group. That night was its big debut to the whole circle.
The film opens with sixteen-year-old Craig, played by the guy from Atypical (chronic dorky teen Keir Gilchrist), considering ending his life by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. As he stands on the precipice, he is nagged by his parents and compared to his supposedly perfect child sister, leading to him making the leap and smushing his face into the camera in freeze frame. “Why are we watching this?” I thought, sitting in my friend’s cushy La-Z-Boy chair. “I thought this was a comedy!” I was stupid and unable to discern black humor at the time.
Luckily, this scene is just a fantasy of Craig’s, and we soon learn that he has checked himself into an adult psychiatric ward to deal with his depression. As the movie progresses, we meet his many co-wards and their unique issues, and develop the same soft spot for them as Craig does. He meets a girl that he likes, has important conversations with Galifianakis’ Bobby (a dad with a mood regulation disorder and a constant sarcastic smirk), and distances himself from his shitty prep school friends. The film ends with a ripped-from-Trainspotting montage showing off all of the inspiring things Craig ends up doing after his release from psychiatric.
On paper, it sounds like an awful faux-positivity pap, but it manages to avoid this entirely. This being a perfectly cast film, each character feels alive with both joy and aching sadness, depending on the scene. The scenes of Craig sitting at his lunch or activity tables with Bobby, Humble, and Johnny (his psych crew) are funny in the way films usually aren’t; they capture an earnestness of human conversation, of saying the wrong thing at the right time, of finding absurdity in your situation with your comrades. Craig’s school friends are smarmy and chaotic, never understanding his illness in a way that matters, but provide a light youthfulness to the film that anchors it as a young adult story. Craig attempts to lose his virginity to Nia (Zoe Kravitz) in his hospital room, but can’t, because his roommate is a religious Egyptian guy with insomnia from psychedelic use. When he finally asks out Noelle (Roberts) instead, they agree to go to an era-appropriate Vampire Weekend concert when they’re released from the ward. There’s even a musical interlude in the film where the patients perform a perfectly glam rock rendition of “Under Pressure” together. There is a ton of fun to be had, and it struck me with a loving slap to the face on that first viewing.
Even as we all laughed at the blooper reel content after the film (if you own this DVD, then you’ll know what I’m referring to when I say “Reecee’s Peecee’s”), I felt a sense of lightness that I hadn’t felt as the clock struck midnight. I knew that many of us in that room had our own issues with anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. There was something about the way Craig spoke about life before he went to the psych ward at the beginning of the film that reminded me of how we often talked about life and school and family. We were at the age that you become aware of how the world will beat you, and the ways in which it’s going to beat you, repeatedly and specifically. To see Craig overcome his lowest point with the help of other people at their own low points, finding hope in being the kind of person that can admit that things are a little bit shit, and moving on from it anyway was helpful for me to see.
The next year, we watched Chicken Run (also a great film). As the credits rolled… “What if we watched It’s Kind of a Funny Story again?” A tradition was born.
Over these ten years, I’ve gotten a lot better at handling my own low points. Craig started to feel less like a peer and more like a reflection of someone I used to be a few viewings ago. Despite that, the cleansing ritual of watching Craig “run, travel, swim, skip (yeah, I know it’s lame, but whatever, skip anyway), breathe, live” at the end of the film still gives me that reset I need at the beginning of every year. It is my resolution every year to breathe, to live. It never gets easier, but I know that I can start it all again the next year if I fuck it up. My friends are by my side, and they too are living and breathing. That is all I need, and it is what I get once a year. I’m excited to watch it all again; the funny story that sticks with me through it all.