A review of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, directed by Roberto Faenza (2011)
by REBECCA, December 26, 2012
I love love love Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You (my full review is HERE)! So, when I learned that the book had been made into a movie (thanks, mom!), of course I had to see it.
It’s the summer after high school and James is working at his mother’s art gallery in Manhattan. His pretentious sister is dating a married professor, his mother ditched her newest husband during their Vegas honeymoon, his father believes that he should never order salad as a main course in a restaurant because it isn’t manly, and about the only people James can stand are his grandmother and his coworker, John. This is James Sveck’s life, and it’s kind of going to shit.
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You is a movie that, had I never read the book, I would have thought was pretty charming with a few super good lines. Toby Regbo (who played the young Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part I) is smart, sensitive, teen-hating James Sveck. Regbo is good—he doesn’t overplay the angst, his American accent is great, and he has the perfect pointy little face. Marcia Gay Harden is good as James’ well-meaning but self-absorbed mother and Peter Gallagher is a little too charming as James’ keeping-up-appearances father. And, bonus, Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica on True Blood) is James histrionic sister. Bonus part two, the always delightful Ellen Burstyn is James’ wise and laid back grandmother.
But . . . well . . . meh. Like I said, it wasn’t bad, by any means. It just didn’t capture the tone or, more importantly, the voice of Cameron’s novel. The novel is written from James’ perspective and his voice is total YA gold. In the movie, voiceover is used occasionally to give the feel of a first person perspective, quoting directly from Cameron’s novel. Despite providing the movie’s best lines, though, the voiceover is too sporadic to completely evoke that strong perspective, making it feel a bit uneven. Similarly uneven is the New York atmosphere. For an NYC-born family in the art biz, the New York that the film shows is extremely touristy, with none of the charm or comfort that a local would experience. Further, in my opinion, the soundtrack (original music by Andrea Guerra) really does the atmosphere a disservice.
The biggest problem with the adaptation, though, is the shift in the role of James’ therapist from the book. In Cameron’s novel, the therapist is something of an antagonist, in that it is in his encounters with her that we learn about the material of James’ frustration with the world. It’s because of her knee-jerk inane pleasantries and clichés that we have access to James’ perspective: “I see,” James’ therapist says. “I hate when people say ‘I see.’ It doesn’t mean anything and I think it’s hostile. Whenever anyone tells me ‘I see’ I think they’re really saying ‘Fuck you’” (87). So delightful. Anyway, in the film, the therapist is more of a life coach (played by Lucy Liu), and she becomes more like James’ only friend, and he talks her her easily, while running through Central Park and drinking smoothies. This totally changes the dynamic of the characters, making it appear as if all James needed was one random sympathetic chum to talk to in order to be all right with the world.
In sum, this is a cute movie. If you’ve read the book, it’s certainly not as good, but charming enough that you might want to watch it for curiosity’s sake. And, if you haven’t read the book, the movie’s definitely worth seeing, even if it’s not the most standout thing you’ve ever seen. Summary: READ THE BOOK; IT’S SO GOOD!