You Hurt My Feelings, 2023.
Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Owen Teague, Jeannie Berlin, Amber Tamblyn, David Cross, Spike Einbinder, Zach Cherry, Sarah Steele, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Rebecca Henderson, Deniz Akdeniz, Sunita Mani, Julian Leong, Sue Jean Kim, and Clara Wong.
A novelist’s longstanding marriage is suddenly upended when she overhears her husband giving his honest reaction to her latest book.
With You Hurt My Feelings, writer/director Nicole Holofcener has crafted a dark comedy about the white lies people tell one another that is so insightful and brazenly straightforward, the highest compliment to pay the film is that it would be unbearable to watch with a significant other. It’s also hard to imagine a more perfect casting choice than Julia Louis-Dreyfus as writer Beth, following up a personal memoir detailing childhood verbal abuse from her father, with a fictional book that she has done multiple passes over and given to her supportive relationship couples therapist husband Don (Tobias Menzies) for feedback.
Beth operates somewhere between self-absorbed and well-meaning, but once she inadvertently overhears Don admitting to her sister’s partner, aspiring theater actor Mark (Arian Moayed), that he doesn’t like the book (which, to make an important distinction, doesn’t necessarily mean the book is terrible, but more so not for his taste), it allows self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and even some narcissism to take hold over the character that a talent such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been blending since rising in popularity on the hit 90s sitcom Seinfeld. Some of her reactions, pitch-perfect line delivery, and actions essentially come across as a more grounded and likable version of her character on that show, as if her entire career was leading up to this, which is unquestionably one of her best roles.
There’s also an element of surprise in how bleak some of the comedy here is. When the film gives glimpses of Don listening to and offering advice to his patients, the romantic dysfunction is often hilarious in a brutally realistic fashion (David Cross and Amber Tamblyn play partners that can’t go two seconds without cursing at one another, but their bickering and hopeless sessions feel authentic). As for Beth, she also doubles as a creative writing teacher where her adult students mine material from some horrific trauma that is amusingly juxtaposed with her memoir, at one point frustrated and jokingly musing, “Maybe if dad were more than verbally abusive it would have sold more.”
More importantly, Nicole Holofcener uses gallows humor to interrogate uncomfortable truths about the lies told to uplift and support one another. She also doesn’t stick to the central conflict of Beth’s crisis but also makes time to observe her sister Sarah’s (Michaela Watkins) dissatisfaction with her current job, Don’s growing troubles as a therapist (occasionally mixing up details about his patients), and Mark’s failure as an actor. And while Beth is understandably upset that Don has not been telling truthful opinions about her writing (even if it’s for a noble cause), another complicated layer is thrown in when it becomes evident that she treats her adult son Eliot (Owen Teague) the same way and seemingly has since childhood, insisting that he was an advanced swimmer despite him knowing within that he wasn’t great.
You Hurt My Feelings also moves along briskly, ensuring it doesn’t stick to comedy for too long before furthering these character arcs. The script is also reasonably smart in that it mostly avoids using jokes to bypass directly addressing what’s happening and how the characters feel. Satisfyingly sharp drama allows for clever twists on these lies and what can be done with them. That’s partially because while Nicole Holofcener is a terrific screenwriter, she’s an even better writer who is astute with wordplay. Admittedly, the ending feels too neatly wrapped up, but the piercing observations, cutting script, and hilariously honest performances keep things pleasant and far from hurtful. The film stings its viewers just as much as it does its characters.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com