For all its attempts to throw light on questions of life, love, sex and art, U.S. indie filmmaker Evan Unruh’s semi-autobiographical debut rarely goes much deeper than a Hallmark card. An idiosyncratic structural and stylistic approach to some extent enlivens the platitudinous material, but outside of film school showings, few audiences will choose to inflict “Personal Pain” on themselves.
A quartet of main characters introduce themselves in a brief spiel. Trish (Carol Iademarco) despises men; Max (Dirk Sanders) craves a wife, kids, house and dog; Lisa (Stacey Cornell) is looking for love to bring change into her life; and Jake (Unruh) is a dissatisfied poet hoping to one day write the perfect sentence. What follows is an extended therapy session, with the four malcontents ruminating in pairs while title cards pose questions on the big issues and a godlike figure looks on at intervals from a stage.
Drama revolves around Lisa and Jake’s troubled relationship. They meet and sparks ignite, but he is too caught up in pursuing his art to respond to her offer of love. She retaliates by denying him sex, which sabotages his writing flow. Meanwhile, Max would gladly put aside his art (painting) for a shot at true love. One such shot misfired in an earlier relationship with Trish, who belabors some of the film’s subtexts with a standup comedy routine thick with hackneyed anti-man taunts.
Shot in black-and-white with occasional splashes of color (Max’s paintings, for example) and edited with a certain nonlinear edginess, the film’s execution only sporadically overshadows its banal content. The tone sits unconvincingly between earnest soul-searching and offbeat comedy, with the non-characters too blandly limned to slot completely into either mode.