This bottled coming of age story set inside a mental hospital rose and sank without a trace. Marketers were unable to translate the new megastardom of Zach Galifinakis into some buzz of their own. Such a shame, because this is a perfectly cute and adequate movie, adapted from a young adult novel and perfect for a certain kind of young adult.
I might have been one of those at one point. My depression, at this point, is gentled and tamed, but on one day in 2002 I cracked under the pressure of school and reporting and girls and (if I remember correctly) a computer error and I checked myself into a Chicago mental hospital. This movie nails it — the patient’s confusion about what he needs is interpreted by specialists as the need to put him up for three or five days. My roommate was a smart guy who slept all day and night; so’s the roommate of our hero, Craig. I didn’t meet any girls, but Craig, the lucky little geek, meets-cute with Noelle, played by the winsomely normal Emma Roberts. They bond over how nice he is (although you could read his behavior as patronizing) to other patients and draw each other pictures of flowers and faces and “brain maps.” Craig bonds and occasionally escapes (to other parts of the hospital, like a gym) with Bob, the Galifinakis character, whose problems are smartly left obscure.
Having revealed too much about myself (although I did write about this nine years ago), I should say whether the movie’s credible. It is. A mental hospital is an easy place for a non-crazy, just depressed person to navigate. When Craig arrives, Bob is a sort of local legend and fixer. In glimpses, we see that this is the only place where he’s not hopeless. He’s interviewing for a spot in a community home, and has a daughter that his wife is trying to protect him from. The saddest moment of the movie comes when Craig, who’s 16 and has no real problems, gives Bob a painting with his number on the back. “We can meet up,” he says, “play some table tennis.” Galifinakis shoots him a look that says this will never happen. Of course it won’t. There is no special rejuvenating power in the hospital. The man with the broken life returns to it, several thousand dollars poorer; the kid with the rich family got a nice girl and a vacation.