At its heart, PAINLESS is a movie about belonging, love, and (possibly) science!
Though it relies heavily on a trope I’ve long tried avoiding in my cinema — that of the sad, lonely white guy — PAINLESS accomplishes heartstring pulls and asks you to consider the following question carefully: How do you know you’re alive?
Henry Long, deftly played by Joey Klein, was born with the inability to feel pain. What’s made clear from the get-go by his flat affect, stunted facial expressions, and argumentative tone taken with his doctor is that the years of living as a self-contained void have impacted him profoundly. He’s lonely, extremely isolated, and actively trying to cook up a cure in his home using lab rats; he’s quite literally searching for pain. His doctor is helping him any way he can, mostly through regular check-ups and attempting to coax Henry into becoming active within a community of children growing up the way he did. Of course, these efforts are to no avail. Henry is too obsessed with finding a cure.
We follow Henry through a series of events highlighted by dark, atmospheric lighting wherein his life becomes peppered by drug deals, exasperated run-ins with his doctor, and perplexing interactions with an experimental scientist — who has his own agenda for approaching Henry. There’s no shortage of people trying to tell him how to find his cure, when suddenly a light appears: Henry meets Shani (played by a dazzling Evalena Marie). It’s trite, but relatable. The fog of a gloomy life lifted by a promising romance. Even though their relationship starts to tread dangerously into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory — which I will abstain from going on a rant about at this time — her entry to the film made the romantic in me want to keep watching.
I have no idea if any of the science discussed in the film is real or imaginary, but it does a good job of assuring you that it doesn’t really matter. Though it’s billed as a drama/mystery, there’s not much that’s left to the imagination about what PAINLESS wants you to believe: Your whole life will pass you by if you spend all of it trying to make it what you think you should be. And you know this is the point about halfway in, but the movie does a good job making you want to know how things end up with Henry. Does he figure out there’s more to his life than his illness? Will those two lovebirds end up together? Does Henry discover a cure? You’ll have to watch to find out!
PAINLESS opens in Los Angeles next Friday, September 21 with a October 2 DVD/VOD release to follow.