Sundance: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michaela Watkins are great as sisters still learning how marriage works (or doesn’t), but despite this muscular subject matter, the film often feels too light.
Filmmaker Nicole Holofcener has long been one of the finest chroniclers of the minutiae of everyday life, uniquely suited to marry the very funny with the very honest, the kind of creator who causes pain, in both good and bad ways. In his first original film in a decade — he’s made plenty of TV movies in recent years, and in 2018 directed and wrote the Ted Thompson adaptation The Land of Steady Habits — Holofcener returns to classic territory: a New York story set in the neuroses and the good intentions and pettiness that keep us up at night. It’s about love, of course.
And while “You Hurt My Feelings” doesn’t lack everything that Holofencer does so well — all that honesty, understanding the texture of everyday life, and putting Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the spotlight where she belongs — it also feels decidedly understated for such a for an insightful filmmaker. The fluff, the missteps, the stray bits are pleasant enough, and there are plenty of laughs and insights here, but nothing new. If you like Nicole Holofcener movies, you’ll like this too, and there’s comfort in that, if not a little disappointment.
Maybe it’s even intentional, because “comfortable but a little disappointing” often seems to sum up the state of long-term relationships in Holofcener’s films (and, well, life itself), and that’s exactly what “You Hurt My Feelings” is about. Beth (Louis-Dreyfus) is a middle-of-the-road novelist who also teaches writing classes, while her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) is a therapist who spends his days helping vaguely disaffected middle-class New Yorkers. (Don’t ask how they can afford their beautiful Manhattan apartment, especially when they keep telling us Beth’s books aren’t selling as well as they should be, but at least it all makes for a wonderful setting.)
Their son Elliott (an excellent if underused Owen Teague) is also trying to be a writer when he’s not working at a local pottery shop and trying to figure out why his now-unseen girlfriend doesn’t love him. And Beth’s younger sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins, also excellent) is bored with her thankless job as a decorator while her own husband Mark (Arian Moayed) juggles his failed acting career. Everyone is happy and their lives alternate between romance and work, not much else.
The main inciting incident of the film is Beth overhearing Don telling Mark really he doesn’t like his new book as much as he struggles to get it published—that’s hardly a secret. It’s long been referred to as the film’s entire synopsis, and the moment it unfolds is as heartbreaking and horrifying as it should be. Louis-Dreyfus is devastated by the admission, and the actress expertly explores the full spectrum of emotions Beth quickly goes through in the aftermath.
But Holofcener also weaves in other instances of someone hearing a terrible truth about themselves, adding to the texture of Beth’s heartbreak. Most of these occur, amusingly enough, with Don, who, amid his marital woes, has yet another bombshell to deal with: being a bad therapist. (Real-life couple Amber Tamblyn and David Cross often appear as bickering couples who see right through Don, while Zach Cherry is another patient tired of Don’s inability to actually help him.) Likewise, Don isn’t the only one who makes Beth feel bad. himself because of his work. Even his own agent doesn’t seem to like it, and the motley crew of writers taught at the new school don’t even know the title of his most famous book.
It all feels very real, very relatable and very familiar. This is not always good. Even audiences used to Holofcener’s filmmaking might find themselves waiting for it all to shift into another gear, but it never does, gliding along gently, worn and shaggy like an old sweater, only vaguely not quite. there.
Other concerns are easier to identify. While Louis-Dreyfus and Watkins are delightfully authentic as siblings (with the added bonus of Jeannie Berlin playing their picky mother), other pairings make less sense, such as Watkins and Moayed (the pair feel more like sultry best buddies than an old couple). . ) or even Louis-Dreyfus and Menzies, who are out of each other’s way even before the big blow-up (strangely, when the pair are with Teague, the family unit actually clicks delightfully into place).
Again, perhaps this disconnect is the point, but in the moments where the film really shines, it’s clear that there are smarter things going on beneath the surface. But even the understated Holofcener boasts the things that make his work so much fun to watch—the endless city-walking conversations, the costumes and settings that actually feel right for their characters, and the snappy editing (curated by Alisa Lepselter) that plays . laughs up – and ‘You Hurt My Feelings’ is full of them all. We just want it to hurt bit more.
“You Hurt My Feelings” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. A24 will release it this year.
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