Review: “Someday This Pain WIll Be Useful to You”

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things I Woke Up Early the Day I Died The Last Time I Committed Suicide.

What do these three films have in common?

Fascinating title. Lousy movie.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You tells the story of a Manhattan teen questioning his sexuality, his sanity, his future, and pretty much anything else that involves himself. Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Peter Cameron, the film clearly loses something in the translation – because all that’s left on the screen is a cliched, limp, and crushingly dull coming-of-age story that wastes both a stellar cast and a chance to explore the development of sexual identity from a fresh angle.

Toby Regbo

James Sveck (Toby Regbo) is a New York City teen possessed of an appropriately awkward/memorable last name, an appropriately dysfunctional family (Mom’s a kooky art dealer! Dad’s a vain, rich suit! Big sis dates her teacher and is obsessed with becoming famous!), and the appropriate amount of wry, cosmopolitan angst. He’s also probably gay but is the last person to realize it. (Okay, been there.)

James is really pretty unremarkable, but that doesn’t stop him from obsessing over himself to the point where he starts having panic attacks and contemplating either buying real estate or killing himself. After a botched attempt to flirt with his mother’s hunky gay gallery manager, he decides to meet with a life coach (Lucy Liu), and they go jogging.

Aaaaaaaand that’s about it.

Deborah Ann Woll and Marcia Gay Harden

Someday’s biggest problem is that it’s utterly unoriginal. Its characters, relationships and story are just too familiar and stock by this point – it’s as though a box set of Sundance Selects became sentient and took it upon itself to write a new Marcia Gay Harden vehicle. Or someone fed a season of Gossip Girl marathon after midnight and it lost all its soapy ridiculousness.

Burstyn with real fruit flavor?

Without any surprises or fresh insights to offer, the film leaves us waiting for something interesting to happen, which of course gives us plenty of time to pick apart every detail: Why does James seriously contemplate suicide in the opening scene, never to display that kind of behavior again? Where did they find all these awful soft pop songs? And why am I expected to feel remotely sorry for a rich kid with a faboo grandma and seemingly no restrictions or curfew whose parents pay for him to hang out with Lucy Liu?


Regbo and Stephen Lang

The “New York City intellectual coming-of-age” film has become its own subgenre in recent years (Igby Goes Down, The Squid and the Whale), and when done right it’s actually not a bad formula. When it’s done wrong, it’s Debra Messing’s kid on Smash. Someday This Pain actually reminded me a bit of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, only here it’s kind of not. It’s not kind of funny, or kind of touching, or kind of interesting. It’s a New York indie on autopilot.

Which is sad, because there are some fantastic performers being wasted here. Rising Brit newcomer Regbo – who is the spitting image of a young Cillian Murphy – might have some serious chops hiding under those bangs, but he never gets the chance to show them. It’s great to see the stunning Deborah Ann Woll act without the burden of her True Blood drawl, and any Peter Gallagher is good Peter Gallagher. It’s just a shame that, given the circumstances, cardboard cutouts could have done their jobs for them here.

Peter Gallagher and friend

Stunning newcomer Gilbert Uwuor seems well cast as the confident, exotic object of James’ attentions, but his character is so underexplored that it’s hard to tell. Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation (who is quietly unseating Zooey Deschanel as the go-to indie darling) and Siobhan Fallon (Saturday Night Live and Dancer in the Dark) breathe a little life into the film in their single scene as a hilarious mother and daughter who try to sell James their dump-front house, but only serve to show how fun this movie might have been had it thought outside the box a bit more.

The concern of questioning youth is a real one, and it deserves to be explored in as many ways as possible as the times and cultural landscape change. Let’s just hope that the next film to tackle the topic proves to be a bit less pain and a bit more useful.


Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You opens today in select cities.

Writer-filmmaker Brian Juergens launched, the world's first website devoted to horror films from a gay perspective, in 2003.