I was just four years old when Bob Dylan released his fifth album, titled “Bringing It All Back Home,” which contained the hit song “Mr. Tambourine Man” — something I once performed during an elementary school talent show.
Apparently I caught the social justice bug rather early in life, and maybe music had something to do with that. Experiencing a live Bob Dylan concert while attending college in Germany couldn’t have hurt.
I dug up the Dylan memories after hearing a famous line from one of the other best known songs from this album — “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” — during a movie I attended recently with my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth.
I was leery when Lizabeth suggested we see “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” It’s hard to find humor in a plotline that involves a teen boy driven, by dreams of jumping off a bridge, to checking himself into a psychiatric hospital.
It’s especially hard to fathom when you’re one of many Valley parents who’ve experienced life with a teen battling depression. There are more of us than you know — and our stories, our children’s stories, are too infrequently told.
Movies that mock people with mental illness are hurtful, even harmful — and never helpful. But “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” a film based on the young adult novel by Ned Vizzinni, tackles the topic of teen depression with sensitivity and more accuracy than most.
It’s really a tale of teen angst in the modern age — examining the dual pressure to conform and to perform for individuals at an age and stage saturated in the drives for exploration and independence.
The film’s main character is a 16-year-old living in Manhattan with an earnest mother, a workaholic father and an adoring little sister. Craig’s facing girl troubles, college applications and the feeling that he just doesn’t fit in.
During a five-day stay in the adult psychiatry unit (the fictional children’s unit is undergoing renovations), the troubled teen encounters various patients — including a smart, sarcastic middle-aged man with a serendipitous side (and a history of multiple suicide attempts).
Comedian turned actor Zach Galifianakis deserves at least an Oscar nomination for delivering his performance as Bobby.
Keir Gilchrist’s performance as Craig is authentic and compelling, and each of the characters he encounters during his hospital stay reveal telling insights about human nature and our best efforts to both fight and embrace it.
They’re confused, just like the rest of us. But they offer remarkable observations and self-revelations, including this famous line from Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma” — “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
It’s the take home message of this movie for both adults and teens. Time isn’t neutral, and it never stands still. But life is more than just doing more or having more. It’s seeing more and being more.
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is a delicious anecdote to the modern-day diseases of divisiveness and device-itis. It’s proof that Bob Dylan still has much to offer folks of all generations, and that film is a vehicle well-suited to fostering parent/child discussions of things that truly matter.
Note: “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” written and directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, is rated PG-13 and runs just 91 minutes. Fans of the movie also can enjoy Vizzinni’s novel and a movie soundtrack recording (score by Toronto band Broken Social Scene). Art aficionados will appreciate the film’s homage to the powers of music and art. Theater buffs will enjoy the performance of award-winning actress Viola Davis (honored most recently for her performance in a revival of “Fences” on Broadway).
Coming up: Holiday blockbusters — and beyond, Movies & mental illness, Once upon a piano recital, The world of film