The 2024 Sundance Film Festival kicked off this past weekend with a fresh batch of independent films with some new faces and names. A Real Pain however had a very familiar face, one who has been gracing the Sundance screens for nearly 20 years.

Jesse Eisenberg returns with his second feature, after his first, When You Finish Saving the World, also premiered at the Sundance Film Festival just a few years ago.

A Real Pain is an incredible improvement for the Social Network & The Squid and the Whale actor who’s more known for his stuttering, awkward demeanour than his writing and directing. That just might change, especially after the film was acquired for $10 million by Searchlight on Sunday.

A Real Pain is a hilarious buddy comedy about a very unfunny scenario. Eisenberg plays David Kaplan, who begins the film rushing to the airport while frantically calling his cousin hoping he won’t be late. Meanwhile that cousin, Benji, played by the incredibly talented and hysterical Kieran Culkin is already at the airport with an extra yogurt in hand patiently waiting for the pair’s jet-setting journey.

The two cousins are traveling to Poland to honor the memory of their recently passed Grandmother to learn more about her life, her home, and her heritage. What follows is a discovery of tragedy, identity, and the difficulty of coping with reality.

The film carefully handles very serious subject matter from the Holocaust, genocide, and suicide. All of these things are not what you would expect to be the backdrop of a comedy, but Eisenberg’s script tackles each heavy item with the respect it deserves but always steering away from pretension with a joke or a funny anecdote.

Culkin is a supernova of energy on screen. The recent Golden Globe and Emmy winner is known for his role as Roman Roy on Succession and this is a very different type of character, but Culkin finds the same ways to make a tragic, tortured soul mask the pain through biting humor and quick wit.

Eisenberg’s wonderful scripts creates opportunities for amazing chemistry between the two and his direction does a wonderful job of showing the beauties and horrors of Poland past, present and future.

A Real Pain is a great sophomore effort for Eisenberg and shows he has a very promising future as a writer and director. It should have great success being such an enjoyable, easy watch, while telling a story that is so easy to relate to and tackling issues we all face. A Real Pain is definitely a real hit of Sundance.

A Real Pain
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Nathan McVay
Nathan is one of HeyUGuys' US correspondents and loves movies. You'll find him at Sundance Film Festival on an annual basis watching and reviewing movies before most others.
a-real-pain-reviewA terrific sophomore effort for Eisenberg. The film is an enjoyable, easy watch, telling a story that is easy to relate to, tackling issues we all face. A Real Pain is real Sundance hit.