The challenge in putting teen angst onscreen is finding a relatable approach to the way problems that are neither unique nor life-threatening look that way to the protagonists. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, the second foray into English-language filmmaking by Italian director Roberto Faenza, not only doesn’t achieve empathy for the minor plights of its human noodle of a hero Toby Regbo, it might actually make audiences understand the urge to bully. After watching Regbo dither about not wanting to go to Brown because he isn’t sure he’ll fit in, or having a panic attack because someone drags him out on the dance floor at an event, it’s hard to imagine his whole school hasn’t lined up for a chance to give him a swirly.
Based on the young-adult novel of the same name by Peter Cameron, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You navigates what might be more accurately described as minor irritations than anything as decisive or momentous as pain. Regbo’s flaky gallery-owner mother (Marcia Gay Harden) marries a man she finds out on their honeymoon is a compulsive gambler. His father (Peter Gallagher) is busy getting plastic surgery and chasing younger women. His sister (Deborah Ann Woll) is dating a much older man who’s in an open marriage, and wishes her life were more troubled so she could get a memoir deal. His only non-relative friend is an employee (Gilbert Owuor) of his mother’s, and he’s tricked into seeing a “life coach” who’s actually a therapist (Lucy Liu), to whom he confesses, “I don’t think I know what normal is.”
Regbo plays such a non-character that it’s an added shame that the fine supporting cast ends up in roles that feel like wan knockoff versions of other dysfunctional NYC aristocracy movies like Igby Goes Down or The Royal Tenenbaums. Ellen Burstyn is the standout in a small part as Regbo’s grandmother, the only person he relates to, but even she is mostly there to give pep talks to her delicate glass unicorn of a grandchild. Only a few minutes into the movie, it starts to seem like he could benefit more from just being told to get over himself than all this coddling. That would cut the runtime down to a far more enjoyable and appropriate length.