Kieran Culkin is Heartbreaking and Hilarious in Jesse Eisenberg’s “A Real Pain”

Fresh off an Emmy win for his role as Roman Roy in “Succession,” Kieran Culkin delivers a captivating performance in **A Real Pain**, Jesse Eisenberg’s new dramedy about Jewish cousins on a Holocaust memorial tour in Poland. This intimate and affecting film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, showcasing Culkin’s magnetic portrayal of the extroverted and chaotic Benji, opposite Eisenberg’s uptight David Kaplan.
Plot Overview
**A Real Pain** follows cousins David and Benji as they embark on a journey to honor their late grandmother, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. The two men, who grew up like brothers but drifted apart as adults, grapple with their differences and personal pains throughout the trip. Eisenberg, who also wrote and directed the film, stars as David, a neurotic and responsible New Yorker. In contrast, Culkin’s Benji is a fast-talking, charismatic man-child, whose unfiltered energy and selfish tendencies often cause friction.
Guided by a British history buff (Will Sharpe), David and Benji join a diverse group on the tour, including a recent divorcee (Jennifer Grey), a retired couple (Liza Sadovy and Daniel Oreskes), and a Rwandan genocide survivor who has converted to Judaism (Kurt Egyiawan). Together, they explore Poland’s historical sites, attempting to connect with their Jewish heritage and understand the horrors their ancestors faced.
 Kieran Culkin as Benji
Culkin shines as Benji, bringing both humor and depth to the character. His manic energy and unfiltered behavior provide comic relief, yet his performance is tinged with an underlying sadness and vulnerability. Benji’s charismatic nature helps him bond with the group, but his internal struggles gradually come to light, making his journey both hilarious and heartbreaking.
Jesse Eisenberg as David
Eisenberg portrays David with a quiet intensity, capturing the character’s introverted and anxious nature. His interactions with Culkin create a dynamic odd-couple relationship, full of comedic bickering and heartfelt moments. Eisenberg’s script allows for both actors to showcase their range, balancing humor with poignant reflections on pain and loss.
 Themes and Execution
**A Real Pain** delves into the complexities of emotional pain, whether it’s personal, existential, or ancestral. Both David and Benji are dealing with the recent loss of their grandmother and the uncertainties of their lives. David internalizes his anxieties, feeling his pain is too unremarkable to share, while Benji’s overwhelming emotions lead him to act out impulsively.
Eisenberg’s thoughtful script and direction navigate the film’s shifting tones, blending comedy and tragedy seamlessly. The film juxtaposes light-hearted moments, such as Benji and David smoking weed on a rooftop, with somber scenes at historical sites like the Majdanek concentration camp. Despite the potential for tonal dissonance, Eisenberg maintains a respectful and grounded approach, ensuring that the humor never undermines the gravity of the subject matter.
 Cinematic Elements
Emma Stone and her husband Dave McCary produced the film, contributing to its unique blend of comedy and drama. One particularly memorable scene, suggested by Stone, involves Benji and David missing their train stop, highlighting the film’s ability to find humor in everyday mishaps without detracting from its emotional weight.
The supporting cast, including Will Sharpe, Jennifer Grey, Liza Sadovy, Daniel Oreskes, and Kurt Egyiawan, add depth to the narrative, each bringing their own perspectives and experiences to the group’s journey.
**A Real Pain** is a Holocaust film that deftly balances humor and heartbreak, offering a fresh perspective on themes of memory, identity, and healing. Kieran Culkin’s performance is both hilarious and deeply affecting, supported by Jesse Eisenberg’s nuanced portrayal and direction. The film’s exploration of personal and historical pain resonates, making it a memorable and thought-provoking experience.

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