January 31, 2023


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‘You Hurt My Feelings’ Review: Julia Louis-Dreyfus Shines

5 min read

When writer-director Nicole Holfsener is at her game, in movies like “Lovely and Amazing” and “Enough Said,” the snaps and flashes of her dialogue are like nervous champagne. It gives you a lift; Conflicts bubble up around. That snarky effervescence is Holfsener’s signature, and his commitment to making adult comedies about things people think and talk about that almost never make it into movies — like the oblique intimacy of the upwardly mobile competition he caught on “Friends with Money” .”

His new movie, “You Hurt My Feelings,” grips us from the opening scene, in which two miserable fat men in a couples’ therapy session berate each other, and the therapist, with the kind of sharp-elbowed animosity we can’t handle. Don’t help wondering: Is the therapist doing something wrong? He appears. She is very passive and meek, very neutral and beautiful. This proves to be a relevant and interesting issue, since he is one of the two central characters in the film.

Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a novelist and essayist, and Don (Tobias Menzies), the aforementioned shrink, have a long and happy marriage. The film never doubts or questions their love for each other. This is part of what allows it to explore, along with a secret complication, the ways that even a good marriage can run into trouble when it comes to secrets and lies.

Out at a restaurant to celebrate their anniversary, the two exchange gifts, and when Beth opens hers (a small box with gold earrings in the shape of a leaf), her reaction is priceless: the typical enthusiasm of someone who’s seriously obsessed but not going to, say, Julia Louis. -Dreyfus plays like a master of comic euphemism. It seems like a trivial moment. Who cares if Beth doesn’t like the earrings? But this is a preview, in miniature, of the puzzle that hangs over the movie. Namely: When do we tell the truth to our partner? When is it better to lie? And what happens when you’re seriously unsure?

“You Heart My Feelings” is a Holfsener ensemble piece, and for a while he’s had great fun introducing us to his latest family of characters. There’s Beth, who teaches fiction writing at the New School and has just submitted her latest novel to her agent. It’s a book that Don says he loved after reading many drafts, though Beth is quite poignant about how well her memoir has sold (not good enough) about our pervasive insecurities and need for approval. just below

There’s Don himself, whose therapy sessions are deadpan comical, because with rare exceptions you never see him do anything wrong—you just see his patients sitting there, not connecting. There’s Beth’s sister (Michaela Watkins), a home decorating consultant who has such a passive-aggressive relationship with the world that she can’t even volunteer to give out church clothes without fighting a homeless man over an oversized shirt. There’s her husband (Arian Moayed), a theater and film actor who can’t seem to reach the next level. And there’s Beth and Don’s son, Elliot (Owen Teague), a lazy slacker who works at a marijuana emporium but wants to be a writer like his mother.

For about half an hour, we have no idea where the movie is going, and we don’t care. We enjoy spending time watching Holfsenner’s people express themselves with alternating currents of brutality and vulnerability. But then, out of the blue, “you hurt my feelings” comes together in a situation. At the Paragon Sports Store near Union Square, Beth and her sister walk in to see Don buying socks with his brother-in-law. They approach but they can’t hear the two men talking. This is Beth’s new novel. Don admitted that he didn’t actually like it. But he had read so many drafts, and felt so committed to being encouraged, that he could not bring himself to tell Beth what he really thought. Now she’s trapped in a lie she can’t get out of.

This is not a matter of exaggerating one’s pot roast. Beth’s writing is her identity, her core. That Don didn’t like his book – and cheated on him about it – cuts him off quickly. It’s as if he’s unfaithful, coming close to throwing Beth out of the store and into the middle of a New York street, a point the film underscores by deliberately evoking Jill Clayburgh’s debacle in “A Single Woman.” Louis-Dreyfus, a talented comedian, knows how to balance comedy and drama, but in this movie, for all the tragically funny snaps of his line readings, he makes Beth a serious character. He serves up inexplicable rage, along with the sheer agonizing confusion that Beth feels at how the husband she trusted could betray her.

But what is he? If it’s just that Don, while pumping Beth’s novel to her, does something lazy and lame, the move would be clear. He should come clean and promise to do better. But what Holofcener, a screwball entertainer-turned-psychologist, is most interested in isn’t the lies Don told. That’s why he lied. Obviously, he wanted to support her, but the key to “You Hurt My Feelings” is that the entire movie becomes a satire on the positive culture of our fetishistically supportive and hypersensitive therapeutic culture. All these things are, in a way, necessary. But maybe, the film suggests, we’ve tried to heal ourselves a little too much. Maybe we need a little more bare honesty mixed with wellness.

“You Hurt My Feelings” identifies how this theme works through not only Beth and Don, but all of the characters. And that’s not a conspiracy. This is a sign of how the mystical ideal of “support” has consumed everything around it. Beth, we learn, had a father who called her “stupid” and “shit for a brain,” part of her memoir. (The film’s funny comment on the publishing industry is that Beth doesn’t have a big story of abuse to sell — but at least her father was verbally abusive!) The result of being raised this way is that she herself is fiercely supportive. He treats each of his writing students like the next Jazzy Smith, and he can’t stop by the pottery shop where Eliot works without offering him a bucket of help (including a dozen donuts). His philosophy is that it’s all good. But when does all good things become too much?

“You Hurt My Feelings” is true to the droll casualness of the title. This is not a major Holofcener movie; It is close to a vivid and confusing short story. Yet Holfsener is bound to see the fates of all his characters converge through a grandiose streak of positivity. Beth, ultimately, must detach her ego from her work; Don needs to shrink tighter; And Eliot, who grew up drowning in praise he didn’t deserve, must show his mother that he can love her without surrendering his sincerity. “You Hurt My Feelings” is small-scale, but it can have a lesson for all of us.

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