You Hurt My Feelings
Truly adult movies tend to be few and far between these days. Stories about grown-ups dealing with normal issues, such as their careers, spouses, children, etc., that give space for interesting conversations performed by skilled actors, with no gimmicks, crazy twists or anything else to distract from them. Those are exactly the kinds of movies writer/director Nicole Holofcener makes. Thoughtful, funny and intelligent stories about people looking for answers in their own small corners of the world. Her latest, You Hurt My Feelings, is another pleasantly enjoyable entry from her. Its ideas may not be big, but it is relatable, charming and a welcome change of pace from the loud blockbusters that always fill multiplexes this time of year.
Beth is a writing teacher struggling to finish her second book. Her husband, Don, is a therapist starting to wonder if he is still good at his job. The plot concerns them and the people closest to them as they try to figure out if their lives are heading in the right direction.
The main theme Holofcener is working with here is dishonesty. When is it okay to tell a loved one what they want to hear, instead of how you really feel? Don has repeatedly told Beth how great her new book is, yet she overhears him telling someone else that he doesn’t like it at all. She takes this as a betrayal, but is it? Does it make Don’s support of her any less genuine? It is an intriguing topic and the screenplay handles it with surprising complexity and humor.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is witty and likable as Beth. Even when Beth starts spiraling, she never seems unreasonable. Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t reach for laughs because, of course, Beth doesn’t find her life funny. She nails the comedic lines when they are there, but she also finds honest emotion in Beth’s drama. Louis-Dreyfus is really good here, though it helps when the material is so strong.
The rest of the cast is equally up to the task. Tobias Menzies is adept at showing Don’s sudden lack of confidence when it comes to the job he’s been doing for decades. What if his patients think he sucks? Does that matter? What is he doing differently that could be causing his performance to suffer? These are questions that are vitally important when you are the one asking them to yourself. Menzies is a great straight man for some amusing therapy scenes and has excellent chemistry with Louis-Dreyfus.
Then there is Michaela Watkins, very funny as Sarah, Beth’s blunt sister, an interior designer who hates her clients; Owen Teague is mostly a plot device as Eliot, Beth and Don’s son, an aspiring playwright in a dead-end job; and Arian Moayed has a couple of nice moments as Mark, Sarah’s actor husband. Each of these characters are seeking purpose in some way and they are all written to add extra substance to the central relationship. This is a very well-crafted screenplay.
Nicole Holofcener has been making movies since 1996. This is her seventh feature. Her filmography is generally centered around women at a crossroads in their lives. Her best work is probably 2001’s Lovely & Amazing (2013’s Enough Said, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is also well worth checking out). She makes engaging movies, that have something to say about marriage, dating, aging, parenthood, friendship and other common sources of confusion or discontent.
You Hurt My Feelings (88 minutes, without the end credits) is a well-written, well-acted, intelligent, funny movie about people trying to do their best, while being unsure if there’s a point. The inciting incident (Beth learning that Don has been keeping his true feelings about her book to himself) seems small, though what if that deceit speaks to something larger? In a way, that type of conflict is happening to everyone in You Hurt My Feelings. Going along with them as they attempt to figure themselves out turns out to be an entertaining journey.
4 out of 5
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Beth
Tobias Menzies as Don
Owen Teague as Eliot
Michaela Watkins as Sarah
Arian Moayed as Mark
Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener