Coming four years after their successful big scren debut Half Nelson Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden offer up this charming comedy which treats its subject of teenage depression as more than a vaguely sketched landscape from which to fire off long hoarded wisecracks and mumble through inane platitudes while showcasing a favourite iPod playlist. This is far more than Juno Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

One of the most interesting elements is the discussion around teenage depression and the various viewpoints of those orbiting the sufferer and how they differ and, ultimately, do not actually matter. Keir Gilchrist does excellent work as Craig, the young man whose unexpected dalliance with the possibility of suicide finds him in an adult psychiatric ward. As our central character it’s nice to see a well rounded and, crucially, average young man trying to find his feet and it takes a good deal of talent to make this average character stand out but Gilchrist is more than capable and at times I was reminded of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Donnie Darko.

His fellow co-stars are a treat with Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts giving their best performances that I’ve seen. Galifianakis’s long lost soul Bobby has a depth and character to him that could have so easily fallen into a maudlin homespun non-entity but there’s a caustic streak to the humour which the Bloopers included on the DVD also show off. Roberts comes off a little less well, not in terms of her acting but in some of her introductory scenes she’s given either too little to do, or has to play out scenes which are not as textured as those given over to those of Craig and Bobby.

There are visual flourishes which are well judged – grey skies are replaced with hand drawn clouds under a crayon yellow sun and the intricate artwork Craig produces become cityscapes to fly through. Akin to the early WETA work on Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures these moments spring from a measured everyday and give a little grace to the difficult unraveling of personal stories and emotional escape routes on which the film is based.

The film didn’t receive a huge opening here in the UK but it has generated plenty of interest and the DVD release should give it the wider audience it deserves. It is a well handled look at a subject which has seen the underside of the cliche hammer more than once. It’s just the sort of film which will make you remember why you enjoy taking a chance on films a little off the radar. The acting is superb, the themes handled well, the direction inventive and full of charm. DVD Extras include the aforementioned blooper reel and a perfunctory Making Of which is diverting enough.


Film: [Rating:3.5/5]

DVD: [Rating:2/5]