Critics called out Nicole Holofcener You hurt my feelings a comedy about a trivial subject (or, in a reference to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ extraordinary role in Seinfeld, “a movie about nothing”) must be safer people than me. Louis-Dreyfus’s distraught Beth, a creative writing teacher who has just finished her second book, was very appealing to me (to re-deploy one more Seinfeld-ism) worthy of the film. After she overhears her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) tell their brother-in-law Mark (Arian Moayed) that she’s only pretending to like her husband’s new novel, Beth goes through a crisis both personal and professional. time. How long has he been pretending he thinks his job is good? Oh this is good? Does it matter?
Beth and Don’s marriage, once so close that their 23-year-old son Eliot (Owen Teague) complains of feeling like a third wheel, is strained, and Don’s job crisis is intensifying: He is a psychotherapist whose clients lose patience with his failure to provide useful advice. It’s not entirely clear whether the clients (including a hilarious pair of insult-trading husbands, played by real-life couple David Cross and Amber Tamblyn) are unrealistically demanding or whether long-suppressed fatigue at Don’s job has been a nightmare. audience. Beth’s sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) also feels disillusioned with her job as an interior designer for the very rich, while her actor husband (Moayed) considers giving up his career after a series of disappointing results. – retreat.
More than studying a single character, You hurt my feelings is a chamber piece about a four-person struggle with the same common but painful life experience: learning, decades into adulthood, one’s future seems unlikely to be successful, as fulfilling, as special as one led to hope. That sounds like a sad theme for a movie, but You hurt my feelings (which clocks in at 93 minutes) makes it both a serious subject of reflection and a source of effervescent comedy. Beth’s inability to get over the ego blow dealt by the fateful eavesdropping moment is easy to spot—Meaning the guy lied about liking the book within 20 drafts!—but it is also, objectively, absurd. While he grudgingly agrees with his sister, he knows that she is beautiful in her cozy Manhattan apartment, faithful partner, and loving if aimless son (an aspiring writer himself, Eliot is working at the counter in a weed dispensary). The opinion of the Don in the manuscript, as he is the first to insist when the truth behind his wife’s rotten will comes out, is only a reaction of the reader. He loves her him, he assured her—isn’t that all that matters? “Ah alright. Then … never mind!” Beth snorted before stepping away. His weak response is childish and self-pitying, if amusing, thanks to Louis-Dreyfus’ mastery of his comic instrument. But this is all too true for anyone who has offered the fruits of their creative labor to a loved one whose opinion they value. Twenty drafts!
Holofcener has already written the script for another great film about the struggles of an author, Marielle Heller Can You Forgive Me?, with Melissa McCarthy as a show-business biographer who turns to literary forgery to survive. The creator of dialogue-driven ensemble comedies such as Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing, Please giveand the (also starring Louis-Dreyfus) rom-com Enough saidHolofcener is a writer-director in the truest sense, a filmmaker whose films stand out for the attention they pay to the nuances of everyday speech and behavior. His scripts have a way of finding humor in whole situations and contexts rather than in quotable one-liners. Scenes often end a beat earlier than in a conventional comedy, leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks. Although the dialogue is naturalistic, it doesn’t seem improvised at random. The specific language used is important, as when an insult Beth mutters to herself over and over in a moment of self-deprecation turns out to be a restraint placed on her head long ago by her abusive father.
Louis-Dreyfus is as fitting a muse for the middle-aged Holofcener as Catherine Keener is for the director’s early years. career.
Louis-Dreyfus is as fitting a muse for the middle-aged Holofcener as Catherine Keener was for the director’s early career: Both are comedians with great timing and a vulnerability no amount of deadpan can cover. Through nine seasons of Seinfeld and seven of Veep (with many memorable film and TV roles in between), Louis-Dreyfus honed his skill at piercing the petty everyday vanities of his characters. In You hurt my feelings, she gets a chance to demonstrate that expertise, while also showing us the real pain and confusion underlying Beth’s often insane self-sabotaging behavior. Tobias Menzies, an English actor who has been a fixture on prestige television since the mid-2000s HBO series Rome (since then he has had duties Game of Thrones, The Night Managerand The crown), is every bit the match for Louis-Dreyfus as the outwardly soothing, inwardly anxious Don, who grapples not only with work issues but with a sense of alienation from his own aging body; Squinting at the mirror on her crow’s-feet, she laments to her husband that “I used to be hot.” Arian Moayed is happy to play a hyper-sensitive would-be actor who cannot be different from Succession‘slick Stewy, while the former Saturday Night Live Cast member Michaela Watkins is a dry-humored delight as a member of the film’s central foursome who manages to maintain some perspective.
One is certain, as the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane, ignore You hurt my feelings as a little film about what snarky, navel-gazing Manhattanites can do in a battle of being “rushed down Madison Avenue by a cybernetic pterosaur firing Sidewinder missiles laced with alien venom.” But in a movie landscape where most choices at the multiplex offer the plotline itself, the existence and persistence of films like this seem like something to protect and cherish. The main character of this film spends a great deal of effort looking for affirmation that the words he spends his days trying to write on paper are important. The film’s writer-director, one of the most unique and indispensable voices currently working in film comedy, need not worry about a thing.