With You Hurt My Feelings, Nicole Holofcener crafts a funny, moving comedy about the lies we tell each other.
PLOT: A fragile author (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a seemingly idyllic marriage falls apart when she realizes that her husband (Tobias Menzies) dislikes her new book.
REVIEW: When you’re in a relationship, telling little white lies to spare your partner’s feelings is often necessary. The same is true with any relationship, be it between a parent and child, two friends, two colleagues, and more. Honesty isn’t always the best policy. In her latest film You Hurt My Feelings, writer-director Nicole Holofcener zeroes in on an incredibly happy marriage. She’s an author with some (but not a ton) of success, while he’s a (mostly successful) psychiatrist. She’s written her first piece of fiction, and he told her he loved it, but she overhears him saying to a friend that he was lying and that it’s simply “not for him.” It’s mild criticism, but she goes to pieces and is guzzling wine in a bar before long, feeling nothing but rage toward her mild-mannered husband.
This is interesting material for Holofcener to tackle. Sundance has been full of movies this year about men falling apart when the power dynamic shifts in a relationship, but Holofcener does the opposite. This is a bit daring nowadays, but it’s worth mentioning that all of the characters in this are notably likable. While Julia Louis-Dreyfus‘s Beth is self-absorbed, she lacks cruelty, and the actress, one of the best in the business, knows exactly how to play the part. She’s a pro at character-based comedy, and Holfcener knows how to showcase her at her very best.
I also enjoyed Tobias Menzies as Louis-Dreyfus’s kind-hearted, shrink husband, Don (a far cry from his roles on Outlander or The Crown). One of You Hurt My Feelings‘ big themes is about losing joy in your work in middle age, and his character is shown to be suffering a crisis of confidence and seemingly unable to help his patients. His most notable, self-perceived failures are a bickering couple played by real-life marrieds David Cross and Amber Tamblyn, who only agree on one thing – that their psychiatrist is no good. He’s also starting to feel old, with the lines on his face growing more finely etched. He and Louis-Dreyfus have lovely chemistry, and it’s notable that the fight they get into never threatens to derail their marriage or lives. Instead, the movie is more interested in navigating a situation like this and how lying isn’t always such a bad thing.
The relationship between Beth and Don is contrasted by another husband and wife relationship, with Michaela Watkins playing her sister, Sarah, who’s in a relationship with an aspiring actor, Mark (Adrian Moayed), suffering from a crisis of confidence. Is he a good actor? The film leaves that up in the air for most of the running time, with the point being that Sarah, because she loves Mark, will always try to spare his feelings. That’s just how it goes in relationships.
You Hurt My Feelings also tries to extend this perspective to parenting, with Beth proudly proclaiming her son (Owen Teague), who works at a dispensary, to be a genius, even though he neither wants nor needs her constant validation. The movie examines why Beth thinks lying to her son to spare his feelings is ok, but when her husband does it, it’s a great sin that threatens their happy relationship.
In the end, you can always trust that Holofcener will dig deeper into the dynamics of a relationship while maintaining an even hand. Her movies are good because she knows the ins and outs of human interaction better than most directors. While ultimately a modest film, You Hurt My Feelings is a feel-good story that enters around an ultimately likable cast of characters, even if they all suffer for their share of quirks. Once again, Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus are a good team (following Enough Said), and this should play to an appreciative audience when A24 releases it later this year.