Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You: Film Review

This cliche-ridden coming of age story is as painfully awkward as its troubled teen protagonist.

Predictable teen angst is the subject of this adaptation of the acclaimed young adult novel.

Teenage angst has been a staple of fiction since the arrival of Holden Caulfield, but is it too much to ask for a movie about a well-adjusted adolescent once in a while? The question is begged by Italian director Roberto Faenza’s adaptation of Peter Cameron’s acclaimed young adult novel Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, whose title will hopefully provide some comfort to unfortunate viewers.

As is so often the case with these sorts of indie misfires, a truly impressive cast has been assembled, including two Oscar winners (Marcia Gay Harden, Ellen Burstyn) and such reliable pros as Peter Gallagher, Stephen Lang and Lucy Liu. But their stalwart efforts do little to redeem this cliché-ridden coming of age story.

The plot revolves around 17-year-old James (Brit actor Toby Regbo, sporting a convincing American accent), who is first seen contemplating suicide by jumping off the roof of his brownstone while his dog watches concernedly. He’s interrupted by the unexpected return of his mother Marjorie (Harden) from a Las Vegas honeymoon that was cut short after her new husband Barry (Lang) lost their money gambling.

The kooky Marjorie, who owns an art gallery featuring such exhibits as smoking trash cans, is but the tip of the dysfunctional family iceberg. James’ father (Gallagher) is a self-absorbed master of the universe type obsessed with plastic surgery and younger women, while his sister Gillian (Deborah Ann Woll) goes the opposite route by entering into an affair with her much older college professor. Only grandma Nanette (Burstyn) offers the troubled teen any solace, mainly with such platitudes as the one providing the film’s title.

It’s hard to tell exactly what James’ problem is, since he seems to have a pretty cushy life. He doesn’t want to go to college, telling his frustrated father that he plans to be a “tradesman.” And he’s apparently haunted by a traumatic incident that occurred on a school trip to Washington, D.C., which, when it’s finally revealed in a flashback, turns out to be much ado about nothing. It’s also made clear that James is gay, although that aspect of his make-up is mainly left curiously unexplored.

Of the impressive cast, only Gallagher, who conveys preening narcissism highly entertainingly, and Liu, as the “life coach” Marjorie hires to help her son through his problems, manage to survive the overly precious proceedings.

Production: Four of a Kind Productions, Jean Vigo Italia.

Cast: Toby Regbo, Marcia Gay Harden, Ellen Burstyn, Peter Gallagher, Lucy Liu, Stephen Lang, Deborah Ann Woll.

Director: Roberto Faenza.

Screenwriters: Roberto Faenza, Dahlia Heyman.

Producers: Elda Ferri, Milena Canonero, Ron Stein.

Executive producers: Rose Ganguezza, Simona Bellettini, Dahlia Heyman, Avy Kaufman.

Director of photography: Maurizio Calvesi.

Editor: Massimo Fiocchi.

Production designer: Tommaso Ortino.

Costume designer: Donna Zakowska.

Composer: Andrea Guerra.

Not rated, 104 min.