It's A Funny Story and Jack Goes Boating 

Two weirdos, two amazing movies

There are dual universes when movies explore romance. In one, couples meet-cute--the giggly blind date, the car accident in which people get bruised but not hurt or in the workplace where snappy repartee usually leads to sexual tension. This universe is usually sprinkled with characters played by Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson and the Jennifers (Aniston and Lopez). The plot often lumbers through a bump-and-run series of events that equate to emotional junk-food. In the alternate universe, there is awkwardness, pain and, if we're lucky, some healing. Two movies opening this week come from the latter. They explore the human condition with dignity and respect yet invite us to laugh and maybe sob at just how broken we all are. It's a rare treat. They're two of the best movies of the year.

It's Kind of a Funny Story is destined to become a minor hit. It's one of those films that you can't wait to tell your friends and colleagues about. The movie, based on the novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini, explores the minefield of teen depression. If you're a parent or relative of a teenager or 20-something, this should be required viewing.

Sixteen-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is living the middle-class nightmare with way too much internal and external pressure, so he checks himself into a mental health clinic. For the next five days we follow his shame, his healing and his ultimate triumph. Emma Roberts is radiant as 16-year-old Noelle, a fellow patient who yearns for connection as much as resolution. Nice supporting performances are offered from Viola Davis, Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan. And then there's Zach Galifianakis. This bearded teddy-bear has made everything he has appeared in measurably funnier: The Hangover, Dinner for Schmucks, Bored to Death. And as Bobby in this movie, Galifianakis builds his most fully realized performance to date. He waltzes through tragedy and comedy all the while navigating the movie from a nice independent comedy toward a 21st century companion to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It's Kind of a Funny Story will become a touchstone film for a new generation.

Also opening this week is Jack Goes Boating, directed by and starring Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. This film has some nice grown-up heart-tugging from Hoffman, the wonderful Amy Ryan, John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega (a Broadway thunderbolt who may have finally found her break-out movie). Hoffman's Jack is sweet and hopeful but, alas, broken. He is a prisoner of his days, and when he meets Connie (Ryan), he hurts. He hurts because he wants to take the most human of risks: to connect to another soul. And the result of matching Hoffman and Ryan is a wonderful ache. Their nuance and subtlety (in delicate tics or audible stumbles) comfort us because we recognize them so well.

It's not giving too much away to tell you that when Jack and Connie meet, she off-handedly mentions that she'd like to go on a rowboat in Central Park some day. So, that becomes Jack's resolve. It's a good thing that they meet in the dead of winter because it turns out that Jack can't swim. His journey, and ours, takes him from the pool to the boat to Connie's heart.

Hoffman starred in the original Off-Broadway production of Jack Goes Boating, so he chose wisely for this, his debut as a feature film director. It shouldn't be any surprise that he is indeed an actor's director. He takes a simple story that has already been told in so many variations, and he focuses the lens on the joys and sorrows that are carefully mined from his acting depths.

If you're looking for a romantic comedy that isn't much more than electronic wallpaper, you might be best advised to head to the Cineplex. I'm sure Katherine and Kate and the Jennifers will oblige. But if you'd like something with a healthier reflection of the human experience, these two fine films will provide.

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