We come once again to that familiar genre of filmmaking that focuses on a spectrum of society unfamiliar to the average moviegoer: the urban creative elitists. You know these people, even if you have never met them in real life. They are wealthy families that have made their fortunes through the arts or similar means, and exist in an isolated world where problems like unemployment and the economy are irrelevant. Naturally, they are dysfunctional because they are “creative,” and produce precocious, angst-ridden children who turn all of the privilege they have been bestowed with into reasons to rebel. These children often reject school because let’s face it, they are so wealthy that they don’t need traditional education. Instead, they devote all of their energy to the art of trying to be artistic, or when that fails, the art of whining. Their natural habitats are usually confined to New York or Los Angeles, or the sprawling vacation homes on the rural outskirts of these cities. They can also be found populating many of the works of Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson and Lena Dunham, among others.
Once upon a time, stories about these kinds of people were vaguely compelling because they were something new; however unrelatable they might have been, these characters were people that most of us had never met before, so their annoying qualities could be forgiven due to our curiosity. However, the jig is up. These characters are no longer an exotic new species to discover; instead, they are just annoying. Every quirk seems taken at random from an established list of approved eccentricities. Where their dysfunction was once remotely sympathetic and at least interesting to watch, it is now cause only for the audience to collectively roll their eyes and wonder when they’re going to grow up.
James Sveck is one such character. He is depressed and angry, and hates interacting with the people around him. These people include his frazzled art gallery-owning mother, his skirt-chasing dad, and his academic sister, who is writing a memoir at the age of 23 while dating an elderly Polish professor. Each one is a stock indie character that lacks anything truly compelling about them, despite being portrayed by talented actors such as Marcia Gay Harden and Peter Gallagher. James’ entire family is constantly pressuring him to go to college; however, he wants to blow that off and move to a house in the country to become some form of craftsman, which is totally feasible in this day and age if you do not need to make money to live. At one point in the film, he nearly buys a house in order to do just that, boasting that it is “only $98,000.” This is just one of the many reasons why James is so unlikable that his plight lacks any reason for empathy. He consistently deals with his problems in ways that are absurd, ways that normal people cannot afford to do. This makes what could be relatable issues, such as his depression and discontent, into caricatures.
Everyone in the film is either involved in the arts or academia, with the exception of James’ stockbroker dad. Characters from South Dakota and upstate New York are used for grotesque comic relief, their relative hickness and enthusiasm mocked in contrast with James’ icy urban detachment (one of these characters is played by Aubrey Plaza; the way her manic nature unsettles James is by far the best moment in the film). After James plays a cruel and immature prank on John, the gay man who manages his mother’s gallery and one of his only friends, one starts to hope that James’ parents will ship him off to military school rather than Harvard. Naturally, they do force him to see a New Age-style shrink, who is portrayed by Lucy Liu and uses running as her main form of therapy. James confides in her how he truly feels about life, including the real story behind a nervous breakdown he had in DC. The scene where he has the breakdown would have been truly affecting had the film not already worked so hard to make James unsympathetic; it is too little too late.Newcomer Toby Regbo does indeed have a presence; it will be intriguing to see what he does next. However, he does not have nearly enough talent to make James worth caring about.
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You was adapted from a novel by Peter Cameron. Perhaps James is more sympathetic on the page, and his world a little more well-rounded. However, onscreen his story provides such a narrow slice of humanity that it barely seems human at all.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
The single disc release also includes a music video, a photo gallery and a trailer.
"Someday This Pain Will be Useful To You" is on sale March 5, 2013 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Roberto Faenza. Written by Roberto Faenza, Dahlia Heyman. Starring Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Harden, Peter Gallagher, Toby Regbo.