Jesse Eisenberg confronts generational trauma in “A Real Pain”

Reading Time: 2 minutes Jesse Eisenberg caused crowds to laugh and cry with his latest film “A Real Pain” at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. He received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic at the award’s ceremony on Friday, Jan. 26 for the film.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Jesse Eisenberg premiered the second film he directed, “A Real Pain,” at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. The film is a vulnerable exploration of generational trauma and suffering, a comedy that follows two Jewish cousins, David (Eisenberg), and Benji (Kieran Culkin), as they travel to Poland to confront the horrors of the Holocaust their grandmother endured. 

Speaking at a Q&A hosted after one of the screenings, Eisenberg addressed the fact that this movie deals with men confronting and discussing their feelings. He said, “I can’t imagine anything else to talk about.”  

In addition to directing, Eisenberg wrote, produced, and starred in the movie. It has been a highlight at Sundance this year, receiving standing ovations and filling up every theater where it is shown. Huge waitlist lines formed for those unlucky enough to get a ticket, hoping for the chance to be part of this experience before its release to the public. 

Eisenberg brought up his biggest challenge as juggling the serious subject matter and comedic interactions between characters. He said, “The challenge really is to tell a story that is funny and about those themes without compromising the reverence that those themes deserve.” Somehow, he pulled off the miraculous and accomplished just that. The comedy does not weaken the impact of the subject matter; in fact, it reveals the complicated levels of human emotion that can be expressed when confronted with difficult situations. 

Culkin is a particular standout in his role as Benji. His character serves as David’s eccentric and charismatic cousin, who pulls David out of his shell to express his feelings rather than remain reserved and detached. This brings the Holocaust into harsh reality while also forcing the cousins to confront their own complicated history. 

Speaking of his fellow actor, Eisenberg stated, “He’s a genius. I can’t say enough good things about an actor.” He jokingly went on to describe how Culkin wouldn’t rehearse, would show up late, and not have his lines memorized in time, yet despite that, he transformed when the camera came on. 

Instead of following their carefully laid-out plans, Eisenberg would tell their cinematographer, Michal Dymek, to take the camera off the dolly and follow Culkin around. “What he’s doing is so much more special, more important, more entertaining, and more fresh and alive and more this movie than the beautiful shot we had planned six months prior,” said Eisenberg. 

Jesse Eisenberg displayed an expert level of talent at the craft of screenwriting with how he dealt with darkness and levity in this film. At times, viewers weren’t sure if they should laugh or cry. With this film, Eisenberg goes down as not just an amazing actor but also an amazing writer and director.