To properly understand Nicole Holofcener’s latest film, You Hurt My Feelings, I must reveal a fact that most people are unaware of: writers tend to be very insecure.
If you’ve stopped laughing, I will continue. Holofcener has made another movie about the emotions of the neurotic and affluent in high-stress situations with low stakes, so the setting won’t be one that everyone will be inclined to visit, let alone remain for its relatively scant 93-minute runtime. People seem to have a special disdain for women who chronicle the lives of the well-off, but it might be Holofcener’s most tender portrayal yet of a woman whose world is upended just as she’s at a critical crossroads in her life.
The always hilarious Julia Louis-Dreyfus is reteaming with Holofcenter for You Hurt My Feelings, this time as Beth, another writer who is struggling to follow up on her last effort, which in her case was a somewhat successful memoir. When she overhears her loving, supportive husband Don (Tobias Menzies), who had always praised the drafts of her latest attempt, admit to her actor brother-in-law Mark (Arian Moayed) that he actually doesn’t like her new book, her world is upended.
“If getting invested was difficult in You Hurt My Feelings, staying so may be even tougher”
If getting invested was difficult in You Hurt My Feelings, staying so may be even tougher. Don and Beth are the kind of married couple who are so adorable they occasionally make their somewhat aimless 23-year-old son Eliot (Owen Teague) feel like a third wheel. Given their healthy dynamic, Beth’s devastation also has to be drawn out to last the entirety of the film feasibly, but Dreyfus needs no pointers to be convincing as a woman in a vulnerable state who is attempting to process that the person whose opinion she cares about most was lying about the work she’s devoted her life to.
That theme of being less than rewarded by career choices also blends nicely with the people around her. Her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) is more adept at hiding the fact that she’s not always the biggest fan of her own husband Mark’s acting chops, especially when his latest job has him questioning if he wants to stick with it, with Sarah herself starting to tire of the wealthy clientele who hire her to decorate their cushy digs.
Beth’s son Eliot is somewhat lost the way young men his age often are, working in a pot store and unable to realize his own writing ambitions. Even Don is beginning to question himself as a therapist, occasionally failing to remember some of the details of his client’s lives and is considering Botox after the only thing a toxic couple (real-life marrieds Amber Tamblyn and David Cross) can agree on is that he looks tired.
You Hurt My Feelings is also self-aware enough to gift its characters some of its cognizances. It would be difficult to retain any sympathy if they weren’t awake enough about the state of the world to acknowledge how small their problems are, and Beth and Sarah are aware enough to take action and do volunteer work with the homeless. Perhaps there’s no winning either way since there may be a slight queasiness when even people like this are unable to provide complete escapism, much like the pang of fear I felt during the second Sex and the City movie when the words “bullshit economy” were used.
“You Hurt My Feelings is also self-aware enough to gift its characters some of its cognizances.”
But awareness mixed with compassion goes a long way, and Holofcenter is able to retain both as she gently skewers the egoism of these privileged spaces. With such keen-eyed precision, even the lack of suspense around Don and Beth’s marriage becomes a form of respect and a refusal to indulge in the state of hysteria lesser films might reach for.
But the film’s shrewdest choice is how it treats the threat of violence, which arrives after much of Beth’s crisis has been resolved. Brutality can often be utilized as a magical catalyst to diminish struggles, characters, and narrative in a lazy effort at a resolution, but in You Hurt My Feelings, it is a matter-of-fact occurrence which reveals the amount of care and love we can display, even if it is amusingly misguided.
And some kind of magical resolution would be unnecessary for this income bracket anyway, which tends to lend the support needed to allow people to grope their way toward solutions. But there’s refreshing elegance and sharp observation in how many in this world are able to put aside their egos in order to do right by themselves and their loved ones.