SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! All right, I’m completely convinced. Nicole Holofcener can do no wrong. Each of the filmmaker’s features has been astute, witty, and incisive. You Hurt My Feelings, which she wrote and directed, and marks her second collaboration with the prodigiously talented Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is no different. In fact, it may be her best film yet – the most succinct, probing, charming, and thought-provoking of the bunch.
Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a novelist, semi-famous for a memoir she published a while ago, now trying her hand at fiction. She leads writing workshops to help others with the craft she herself hasn’t fully mastered, it seems. To alleviate her anxiety, she smokes pot, although she refuses to buy it from her angst-ridden son, Elliot (Owen Teague), who works at a dispensary. Beth’s husband, Don (Tobias Menzies) – a psychiatrist, whose patients sympathetically comment on how tired he looks – also starts to doubt his skills.
One day, Beth and her sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), overhear Don talking to Sarah’s husband, aspiring actor Mark (Arian Moayed), about how much he dislikes Beth’s new book. This strikes Beth right in the jugular. How could he have lied to her, raving about all these drafts? She begins to unravel, distrusting her husband, becoming increasingly insecure about her writing. In the meantime, Sarah and Mark experience setbacks in their own respective careers. As always, Holofcener leaves things on a perfect note.
Holofcener has a knack for creating relatable characters whom you feel you know personally. Understated quirks, offhanded remarks, and reflexive gestures add to the verisimilitude of the filmmaker’s fare. Although she rarely, if ever, crafts a happily-ever-after ending, her films could be considered inspirational. You never want them to end, you wish to live on with these characters, and you care about what happens to them next. Just like that little 1990s sitcom Louis-Dreyfus is famous for, Holofcener’s films are technically about nothing. But they’re also about everything. She’s handled so many subjects and emotions with such ease, it’s truly a wonder she hasn’t been recognized by the Academy yet.
“…Beth and her sister…overhear Don talking…about how much he dislikes Beth’s book.”
On the surface, the plot is simple, but the nuances, keen observations, silences between words, the humanity of it all, and the ease with which the filmmaker effortlessly navigates turbulent currents subtly transform the feature into a complex drama. There are no heroes or villains, no good or bad people, just folks trying to figure themselves and each other out. Seemingly inconsequential moments gain gravitas: at Mark’s birthday dinner, Beth breaks the news to Don that she’s overheard his rant; Don mistakes his patients during therapy; then there’s that exchange of leaf-shaped earrings and a V-neck sweater.
Moments like these add up to a multifaceted portrayal of marital relationships, the middle-age slump, privilege, aging, and perhaps most significantly, trust. How truly honest are we with loved ones? How often do we say what we don’t mean, lying out of love? Truth hurts. You can’t hide from the truth.
You Hurt My Feelings is also incredibly funny at times, the humor stemming from wisdom. A few choice bits of (out-of-context) dialogue include: “Don’t call older people adorable. Babies are adorable.” “Isn’t that a weird thing, when your doctor dies?” “None of us are ladies. We are women, and this is my house.” “I like women. I just don’t like you.” “Are we dead yet? You carry around Tums in your bag?”
When an actor of Louis-Dreyfus’s caliber pronounces lines like these, it’s like listening to Beethoven’s 5th symphony. She runs the gamut of emotions with a graceful touch, perfectly in sync with the filmmaker. She makes Beth deeply sympathetic, while her rapport with Menzies, Teague, and especially Watkins is thoroughly believable.
Hysterical, insightful, gentle, and touching, You Hurt My Feelings is a breath of the freshest air you can imagine. It’s a radiant gem that will leave you exalted. All hail Nicole Holofcener.
You Hurt My Feelings screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
"…all hail Nicole Holofcener."