A Real Pain Movie Review

Amidst the realm of filmmaking, there’s a burgeoning trend of actors transitioning to the director’s chair. In my observation, they tend to fall into distinct categories. Some struggle to find their footing, lacking the prowess for directorial endeavors. Others tread a middle ground, crafting films that neither excel nor falter, their focus primarily on guiding their peers rather than mastering the broader canvas of cinematic artistry. And then, there exists a rare breed—the crème de la crème—individuals like Greta Gerwig, Ben Affleck, and Bradley Cooper, who possess an innate knack for filmmaking.

To this esteemed echelon, we can now append the name Jesse Eisenberg. “A Real Pain,” a cinematic creation in which he not only stars but also helms and co-writes, premiered at Sundance recently, unveiling a tapestry of delight and revelation—a deft, humorous, intellectually stimulating, and aesthetically pleasing journey encapsulated within a road movie narrative following two Jewish cousins, David and Benji Kaplan (portrayed by Eisenberg and Kieran Culkin). Their expedition unfolds across Poland, framed within a context of familial history and the broader Jewish narrative, particularly resonating with the cataclysmic events of World War II. Amidst their exploration, they endeavor to locate the ancestral home of their late grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.

“A Real Pain” delves into various themes, with the suffering ingrained in Jewish history serving as a prominent motif. However, it merely scratches the surface. David, the more restrained of the duo, epitomizes a vintage Jesse Eisenberg persona—earnest, somewhat uptight, yet not a mere caricature of millennial neurosis akin to Woody Allen. While emotionally reserved, David navigates life with a semblance of stability, residing in New York City with his family and engaged in a mundane yet responsible profession. The impetus for their journey stems from David’s desire to reconnect with Benji, their once-close bond strained by the passage of time and divergent paths.

Their familial bond, though cherished, encounters friction due to inherent temperamental disparities. David embodies the archetype of a conventional, middle-class individual, whereas Benji exudes a nonconformist, carefree demeanor, often veering into vulgarity and impulsivity. Despite his erratic behavior, Benji’s wit and perceptiveness serve as a magnet, albeit overshadowed by his aversion to societal norms, clinging to a youthful recklessness despite entering middle age.

Thrown into the mix of a predominantly older tour group, Benji assumes the role of an unpredictable wildcard, injecting moments of levity and discomfort with his irreverent antics. Despite his abrasiveness, Benji’s charisma remains undeniable, akin to the archetype of the ‘Magical Pest,’ challenging societal norms while retaining an enigmatic allure.

Kieran Culkin’s portrayal of Benji transcends mere comedic performance, offering a nuanced portrayal of a man oscillating between wit and vulnerability, blurring the lines between charm and manipulation. Eisenberg’s script, underscored by contrasting voices and philosophical undertones reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s oeuvre, intricately weaves the narrative of familial bonds and personal reconciliation, inviting audiences to palpably engage with their journey.

Initially perceived as flippant towards historical significance, Benji’s journey transforms into a poignant reflection on the interplay between past traumas and contemporary consciousness. His critique of the tour guide’s superficial narrative underscores a deeper quest for meaning amidst historical remembrance.

The title, “A Real Pain,” serves as a double entendre, alluding to Benji’s abrasive demeanor while also encapsulating the film’s exploration of genuine emotional resonance amidst societal distractions. Eisenberg’s directorial finesse, coupled with a seamless blend of humor and pathos, evokes comparisons to Linklater’s cinematic sensibilities.

Despite its breezy narrative, “A Real Pain” leaves a lasting emotional impact, propelled by stellar performances from the ensemble cast, particularly Culkin’s transformative portrayal. The film’s denouement, framed within the existential quandaries of its protagonists, leaves audiences pondering the nature of redemption and personal evolution, encapsulating the essence of cinematic stardom.