REVIEW: You Hurt My Feelings (2023, dir. Nicole Holofcener)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 93 mins

UK Distributor: Prime Video

WHO’S IN YOU HURT MY FEELINGS?

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Owen Teague, Jeannie Berlin, Amber Tamblyn, David Cross, Zach Cherry, Sarah Steele, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sunita Mani, Deniz Akdeniz, Clara Wong

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Nicole Holofcener (director, writer, producer), Stefanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (producers), Michael Andrews (composer), Jeffrey Waldon (cinematographer), Alisa Lepselter (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A novelist (Louis-Dreyfus) is shaken when she overhears an honest reaction from her husband (Menzies)…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON YOU HURT MY FEELINGS?

They say that honesty is the best policy, but is it always? Sometimes, telling someone that they may not be as talented or as able as they may think they are might just result in an uncomfortable breakdown of egos that they may never fully recover from, so a gentle nudge toward the validation and encouragement they seek – even if it’s by no means how you really feel – is all that matters. However, as writer-director Nicole Holofcener explores in her wry and studious comedy-drama You Hurt My Feelings, this can be a double-edged sword, as issues of trust and self-worth can also seep through the cracks, with the end result being more than taxing for everyone involved.

Holofcener’s situation mainly involves Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a published author whose only previous work was a memoir about growing up in a verbally abusive household, and her husband Don (Tobias Menzies), a struggling therapist. Theirs is a co-dependent relationship, with each relying on the other for support and validation as they work their way through their varying degrees of success, which has brought them a loving and longstanding marriage. That illusion shatters when, one day, Beth overhears Don criticising her new fictional book, despite him giving her positive feedback previously, sending her into an insecure state where she tries to look at her seemingly supportive husband in the same way again.

On the surface, this is a very First World Problems kind of movie. The central conflict, while emotionally taxing, is relatively minute in terms of serious drama, not to mention the white middle-class set of characters that it’s happening to, with their relatively nice apartments in a somewhat affluent corner of New York. However, what Holofcener manages to do quite well is make the conflict, no matter how minor it may seem, feel disturbingly universal. After all, who hasn’t, at one point in their lives, been lied to by a loved one – be it a family member, a spouse, a close friend, or even a random stranger – in order to be reassured about something? We, as humans, crave validation at all times, including and especially when we fear that we might not be progressing in life or in work as much as we think, and Holofcener really captures the insecurity we feel whenever there is even the slightest doubt that the things we create are not universally received, even by those closest to us (I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve been on that end with family members who just cannot find it within themselves to be honest about the things I show them).

Even more crucially, Holofcener creates characters who you do sympathise with enough to understand why they may feel so hurt when they hear things that they may not want to. When we first meet Beth, as played by an on-top-form Julia Louis-Dreyfus, she is clearly at that stage in her life where she’s seeking for whatever validation she can find; she strives to do good by the community, regularly donating clothes to the homeless, and actively encourages her directionless son Elliott (Owen Teague) to finish that play he’s been writing, just so she can feel good about herself. At the same time, Tobias Menzies’ Don is rapidly losing interest in a job that isn’t helping his patients all that much, with some offering negative feedback upon the end of every session, so his spirits are already crushed enough as is before his wife finds out about his honest opinions. Both of them have their equal share of insecurities, some of which appear to be borderline narcissistic, but they do still care about one another, even when one of them is unintentionally hurt by the other, and in a way, you are rooting for them to overcome their grievances and restore their clearly sturdy relationship.

While the film isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy, it does spend a lot of its time exploring feelings and situations that are lightly humorous and ponderous in equal measure. Holofcener is a filmmaker who appears to take the most insignificant of human events and not only poke light fun at them but also find the heart and soul within them too, and You Hurt My Feelings is a wise extension of her abilities that serves to give the viewer a smart and calculated look at societal issues that we don’t often consider for whatever reason. On top of some neatly understated central performances, as well as memorable supporting turns by the likes of Michaela Watkins and Succession’s Arian Moayed (also watch out for a scene-stealing turn by Arrested Development’s David Cross), the film manages to convey its central themes and topics without steering into melodrama, the closest it comes to which being a climactic store robbery that pops up out of nowhere.

It may come across as too First World Problems-y to some, and understandably so, but look a little deeper and you’ll find a story of human connection that’s more universal than it at first appears.

SO, TO SUM UP…

You Hurt My Feelings is a smart and calculated look at the lies we all tell to support and validate one another, which writer-director Nicole Holofcener handles delicately along with some neatly understated turns from the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies.

You Hurt My Feelings is now streaming exclusively on Prime Video

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