Film Tricks: singing without singing in “Kind of a Funny Story”

I recently saw the film “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” in which the main character, Keir Gilchrist, plays an academically gifted (but parentally pressured) teen who inadvertently finds himself checked into an adult psychiatric ward as a result of a depressive episode.  During the experience, he makes a series of remarkable discoveries about himself.

Personally, I thought the film was excellent, and it touched a nerve with regard to things I have thought about more as I’ve gotten older – how society tricks us into maximizing our own academic potential, often causing us to overlook what it is that we really want to do with our lives.

But I was surprised to read that film reviewers didn’t hold the film in as high a regard as I did.  One of the chief complaints they made was that the film resorted to gimmicks and distractions that detracted from the main story line – referring to two of my favorite parts of the film – the animation sequence and the music video.  I actually thought these parts (and others) were in keeping with the overall “feel” of the film, and made it much more interesting.  But I guess that’s why I’m not a film reviewer.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss the music video.  This sequence starts out with Gilchrist and his fellow patients taking part in “music therapy” – Gilchrist for the first time.  Of course, he just wants to watch, and hang out with Emma Roberts, but he finds himself thrust in the limelight and behind the microphone while everyone else starts banging on wood blocks and makeshift drums, and we start to hear the beginnings of Queen/Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”  Take a moment to watch the video:

What I find particularly interesting about this clip is that afterward, there is no question in anyone’s mind but that Gilchrist is an AMAZING singer. I was so distracted by the costumes, lights and shenanigans of the characters we have gotten to know by this part of the film, that I didn’t realize until afterward that Gilchrist himself hadn’t actually sung a single note!  The audio, from start to finish, is the original Queen/Bowie version.  I figured, maybe Gilchrist was so well-suited for the role that possibly this was an artifice designed to cover up the fact that he can’t actually sing though the script requires him to.  But as I imagined some sort of hopped-up “Glee” version of “Under Pressure” they might have done, I realized that no matter how good his own voice was, we’d end up comparing him to the original (and can anyone else hit the high notes that Freddie Mercury could, anyway?) and think, “yeah, he’s pretty good.  But…”  By leaving his actual voice to our imagination, it’s possible for him to actually “outsing” Freddie Mercury and David Bowie.  Which, I think, is a pretty cool trick.

So what did you think of the film?

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