Jesse Eisenberg’s A Real Pain premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2024 earlier this week. The comedy-drama follows mismatched cousins David (Eisenberg) and Benji (Kieran Culkin) as they reunite for a tour through Poland to honor their beloved grandmother. The adventure takes a turn when the pair’s old tensions resurface against the backdrop of their family history.
Written and directed by star Jesse Eisenberg (When You Finish Saving the World), this is his second directorial feature. A Real Pain is somewhat based on Eisenberg’s family history with the movie being filmed in some locations linked to Eisenberg’s family origins in Poland. That gives it an added emotional layer.
Jesse Eisenberg’s (The Social Network) David plays his usual neurotic character. Being an anxious person myself, I find watching him makes me feel even more anxious. The character seems close to his real-life persona and thus is one that feels very real.
Although A Real Pain is written, directed, and starring Jesse Eisenberg, it feels very much like it’s all about Kieran Culkin (Succession). Benji is a livelier character, he has more highs and lows than David. He brings a lot of emotion to what is, understandably, a very somber holocaust tour. It’s not too far away from Culkin’s Roman in Succession, it’s a role he fills with aplomb.
A Real Pain is very much about the two cousins. The rest of the tour group isn’t given a lot to do within the tight 90-minute runtime. Will Sharpe’s (The White Lotus) tour guide James provides a lot of context for the audience as well as the tour group. He does well with what is essentially an exposition role.
The film is beautifully shot by Michal Dymek (EO), he shows the beauty of the architecture of Poland in a simple yet stylish way. The classical music that accompanies it is perfect for the tone of the film. It’s also not overplayed during some of the more emotional parts of the film, leaving the images to do the talking.
A Real Pain isn’t a 5-star film for me but it’s a strong effort. I didn’t get enough to explain the tension between the cousins, that seemed a little vague. The images of the concentration camp hit hard, they are perfectly shown without over explaining or lingering too long. The film sure has its emotional moments but as a whole it didn’t click perfectly.
The film was bought by Searchlight for $10 million, to be released later this year in theatres. I think A Real Pain is worth watching, it has some good moments and Culkin’s performance is great. Eisenberg has shown promise as a director in both of his features. His future efforts will be worth looking out for.