It’s kind of a cross between the mental ward comedy genre as typified by “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or “King of Hearts”, mixed with a geeky coming-of-age romance like “(500) Days of Summer” or “The Graduate”. Though not quite as good as any of them, it’s the work of director/writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the couple behind the gritty, semi-documentary indie successes “Half Nelson” (which earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination) and Sugar, an engrossing tale of a 19-year-old Dominican minor-league baseball prospect adjusting to life in the U.S.
The premise here is slight. “United States of Tara”’s very promising Keir Gilchrist, who plays a gay teenager in the series, commits himself to a mental ward after continually fantasizing about jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. While there, he meets Zach Galifianakis, mildly crazy, but also filled with the requisite good, practical advice to grab life by the horns. Emma Roberts is the love interest, a suicidal free spirit with tell-tale scars on her wrists, while Zoe Kravitz is the girl who got away, a caramel-colored temptress who is going out with his best friend.
The movie doesn’t hit you over the head, or insist the inmates should take over the asylum, but instead piles up some neat little human moments, without being afraid to let the air in. And there are the requisite loonies, from a melancholy Egyptian who won’t get out of bed to a Hasid agitated by noises, who prove there’s nothing like a pizza party to bring everyone together and reaffirm the beauty of life. It’s not one of those black and white movies, rather it neatly draws the fine line between success and failure, love and hate, and, naturally, crazy and sane.