Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivers yet another standout performance in You Hurt My Feelings, directed and written by Nicole Holofcener.
Nicole Holofcener possesses and then wields her innate understanding of our delicate, human condition in her latest film, the hilarious and heartfelt You Hurt My Feelings. Julia Louis-Dreyfus reunites with the director following their 2013 film Enough Said for yet another poignant dramedy that seeks to explore the fragility of ego, tethers of marriage, and ways in which parents will always, somehow, damage their children. Even if they mean well. With acerbic wit and understated warmth, You Hurt My Feelings is Holofcener’s best work yet.
Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and being released now through A24, You Hurt My Feelings follows a writer, Beth (Dreyfus,) who accidentally learns that her longtime husband Don (Tobias Menzies) doesn’t like her current book. Regardless of the situation, it’s an admission that stings even more due to him having told her the opposite when she asked him directly. Now, fearing that he’s been lying to her about her work for years, Beth falls into a fit of accelerated insecurity. And this is compounded even further by the fact that her son (Owen Teague) is angry with the two of them for being too in love and having too much faith in his capabilities for success.
Don too is suffering his own midlife crisis. We watch him at work as a therapist and he’s a piss-poor one by all accounts. Delivering placating advice, forgetting names and details of his clients, he never fully occupies the space in his office. Mentally, his mind is seemingly elsewhere. He’s even been thinking about getting some cosmetic work done, as he agonizes in front of the mirror over his aging.
Hilarious and heartfelt.
The individual concerns of the central couple appear surface level at first glance. Don fibbed for the sake of keeping her confidence steady, while he deals with what so many of us do as the first wrinkles from too much laughter settle into the corners of our eyes. Holofcener manages to produce magic from these stories with the full admittance that however inconsequential they may appear to many, they’re significant to those enduring them.
Writers are fragile things. While we attempt to ready our defenses in the face of expected critique and edits, be it from editors, friends, or casual readers, there’s always a vulnerability tied to putting a piece of work out there. Especially if it somehow taps into who you are as a person. There’s a level of separation when it comes to something like film criticism, as edits to one’s personal work of fiction can be especially bruising. To have said negative opinion coming from a loved one — a spouse or romantic partner, in particular — can be catastrophic.
You Hurt My Feelings captures this impasse with empathy for its characters, understanding the nuance of long-term relationships and how much it takes to rattle such a stable foundation. Beth is hurt, and that hurt is understandable. We also understand why Don might’ve hidden his true opinion. The drama is derivative of how the two deal with these small lies they’ve been telling one another for years out of consideration for the other’s feelings. Their marriage isn’t ending. It’s just facing a road bump. The main source of conflict is the type that asks the participants to reflect back on themselves as they figure out where the anger and/or defensiveness truly stems from.
The bottom line.
Holofcener’s script is a wonder, and Dreyfus in particular is extraordinary. She imbues Beth with the right amount of vulnerability to render her irritation relatable. From probing other couples at bars about their difficulties to her barbed yet close relationship with her mother (Jeannie Berlin) and sister (Michaela Watkins), Dreyfus slides into each sequence with ease, creating strong chemistry with whichever scene partner she shares frame with. For all the accolades she’s won for bigger, broader comedy, she’s a master of minute reactions, such as the well-timed quirk of an eyebrow or the clench of a jaw that wants to be a smile but is closer to a grimace.
The entire cast is phenomenal, but the two-hander between Dreyfus and writer/director Holofcener allows the picture to sing. Hilarious in how it captures the inner workings and snide remarks of marriage, heartfelt in how it depicts healing and the continual effort and growth required to keep a relationship strong, and honest in finding the root understanding of why certain comments or assumptions will irk, You Hurt My Feelings intoxicates. The film is of a smaller scale, but that does nothing to alter its immediate impact. We know these characters, we are these characters, and that makes them enchanting.
You Hurt My Feelings is in theaters now. Watch the trailer below.
Images courtesy of A24.
YOU HURT MY FEELINGS - 9/10