A lot can be done with the title of Roberto Faenza’s “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You,” though it’s best to kindly say that the Italo helmer’s second English-lingo pic in 28 years (since Harvey Keitel starrer “Copkiller”) is a misfire. Strong cast members can’t do much to help their less talented colleagues, and the flat script, about a family of kooky New Yorkers, strives for a sophistication it simply can’t reach. “Someday” opens in Italy in February, but Stateside auds won’t buy the plethora of patently false situations, likely restricting U.S. play to streaming sites.
Seventeen-year-old James (up-and-coming Brit Toby Rego) narrates, saying he doesn’t like to talk much. There are quite a few things he says, or are said about him, that don’t jive with what’s onscreen, though the scripters aren’t being perverse, just sloppy. Another character taken from the over-plundered Holden Caulfield mold, James appears to be about to jump from the roof of his brownstone, but then mom Marjorie (Marcia Gay Harden) pulls up, home early after a failed honeymoon.
She’s a much-divorced impulsive gallery owner (another well-worn type), long split from James’ dad, Paul (Peter Gallagher), a big biz swinger. There’s also James’ older sis, Gillian (Deborah Ann Woll), who has father-figure issues; and their grandma, Nanette (Ellen Burstyn), Marjorie’s mom and the only family member with whom James feels a special connection. He’s spending the summer working at Marjorie’s gallery and apparently harboring a crush on gallery director John (Gilbert Owuor).
James is supposed to go to Brown U. but decides he’s not interested in college. Marjorie isn’t having such nonsense and sends him to life coach Rowena (Lucy Liu), whose patient ear allows him to articulate his feelings. She also gets him to confront “what happened in D.C.,” an event frequently referred to in troubled tones, which, when revealed, proves to be nothing more than a mild panic attack.
In fact, much of “Someday” engages in making mountains out of molehills, such as James’ misguided but hardly treacherous prank in which he pretends to be someone else so he can connect with John on a gay dating site. Levels of reaction to various events throughout the pic are off-kilter, but nothing is as cringe-worthy as a scene in D.C., when the busload of students on a young leaders’ getaway spontaneously — and apparently, without parody — burst into “America the Beautiful” when spying the Capitol.
It’s indicative of how much the film gets wrong about America, and there are times when it feels as if Faenza’s understanding of “kids these days” stopped some time in the 1960s; a school dance resembles a sock-hop more than something from 2011. The kooky family wants to be cousins of the Royal Tenenbaums, but there’s no edge or cleverness here.
Regbo is fine, and comes through relatively unscathed. Harden can do this kind of Americanized “Absolutely Fabulous” role with her eyes shut, and Burstyn forms an island of substance in a very shallow sea. Though Liu’s role is tiny, she once again proves that her talents are being criminally neglected. Woll and Owuor, however, turn in weak perfs.
Gotham and the ‘burbs look attractive through ace d.p. Maurizio Calvesi’s lens, though it’s a sunny kind of blandness that fits with the overall impression of a film made by a visitor and not a resident. Sound, at least at the Rome fest screening, was overly resonant.