A genre we have been seeing more and more of in recent years is something I’ve come to call the ‘New-Age Dramedy.’

Films in this category, including Garden State (2004), Running with Scissors (2006), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and Charlie Bartlett (2007), have attained both box-office success and critical acclaim, but what is it about these dramatic comedies that make them tick and what is it about them that we like so much?

First of all, here’s what classifies this budding group of films:

  • A series of laugh-out-loud, quirky and ironically funny moments backed by a more serious/somber plotline
  • A family dynamic that dabbles into the absurd; the sort of family that puts the “fun” in dysfunctional
  • One or more main characters who are lost or struggling and are brought to resolution by brighter, more eccentric secondary characters
  • A fixation with mental illness; be it depression, bipolarity, suicide, obsessive compulsive and generalized anxiety disorder, etc, and an emphasis on psychiatric medicine and psychology

The newest addition to this genre is an indie film by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (credited together on such projects as Half Nelson [2006] and Sugar [2008]) called It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010). In the film, depressed 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital after experiencing thoughts of suicide. Craig meets an unlikely group of patients and friends, including his love-interest Noelle played by Emma Roberts, as he learns about himself and attempts to find purpose.

The film, also starring The Hangover’s Zach Galifianakis, is heart-warming and hilarious, definitely fitting the ‘New-Age Dramedy’ checklist. The reason I liked this movie, as its fellow dramedies listed earlier, is twofold. First of all, everyone feels a little crazy sometimes, so its comforting to watch people on screen who seem to be just a tad bit worse off than you are; let’s call it Schadenfreude mixed with an appreciation for the absurd. Second, everyone’s two favorite things to do at the movies are laugh and cry, and these movies make you do both. Plus, they have a way of showing us something about ourselves without being overly didactic and shoving neatly packed life lessons down our throats.

As for the performances in this particular Dramedy, Zach Galifianakis shines as always but is especially touching in the more serious moments of his role, something slightly different for him. However, it was the performances of the two younger stars, Kier Gilchrist and Emma Roberts, which truly caught my attention. Gilchrist is a London native who is still relatively unknown aside from his role as Toni Collette’s gay son on Diablo Cody’s dark Showtime comedy, The United States of Tara. Interestingly enough, the show seems to fit the ‘New-Age Dramedy’ bill as well, centering on the quirky Gregson family, led by their schizophrenic mother, Tara. With dark eyes and a permanent puppy-dog expression, Gilchrist was perfect to gain pathos for his sympathetic character. Roberts, who is a growing contender for the next big starlet spot in Hollywood, seems to be gaining a typecast in her roles. As charming and understated as she was in this film, she seems to be cast as the same object of an indie-loner boy’s affections in the upcoming film, Homework, due for release this summer, where she plays opposite the Chocolate Factory’s own Freddie Highmore.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story was a valiant effort for the New-Age Dramedy, and I believe this genre has room for more commercially and critically successful films in the future.