New York City is proving to be a comfortable setting for the greatly skilled Nicole Holofcener. From her breakthrough indie debut Walking and Talking to Enough Said and co-writing Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Holofcener is starting to channel Woody Allen comedies told from a more female perspective with her latest film titled You Hurt My Feelings. Her work has always featured middle-aged women attempting to repair themselves from life’s complications and curveballs while adding some existential themes about aging, self-confidence, and discovering harsh truths that open reflections and self-realizations.
It also doesn’t hurt that this sharply written and witty work features a bittersweet and endearing performance by Julie Louis-Dreyfuss as a struggling author and writing professor who also tries to balance her relationships with her mother, her therapist husband, sister, and son while attempting to get her second book published after her first published book went into circulation but didn’t quite become the best-seller as she had hoped. While bouncing between subplots and echoing the structure of Walking and Talking and Lovely and Amazing, Holofcener’s latest becomes more of a mini-ensemble of four characters. Probing the complexities of a marital drama and finding emotional resonance with some generous payoffs and some huge belly laughs, Holofcener’s seventh film is one of her brightest.
In her first directed film since 2018’s The Land of Steady Habits, Holofcener follows the frivolities of Lovely and Amazing, Walking and Talking, and Please Give which also echoed some elements of Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives as it examined the intricate sides of marriage and relationships, but Holofcener’s film feels refreshing as it doesn’t resort to infidelity or hidden affairs in showing how deceptive relationships can be. The film examines how honesty functions in relationships and how too much of it can push people away and end up feeling cruel. Holofcener explores uncomfortable questions and searches for answers.
Courtesy A24 Films
In You Hurt My Feelings, we open with what appears to be a very joyful marriage between Beth (Dreyfuss) and her therapist husband Don (Menzies). They are both very encouraging and supportive towards each other’s professions, and they even share their salads and ice cream together, which includes grossing their son named Elliot (Owen Teague) out. Beth is embarking on her first novel after her debut memoir was very well reviewed but still under the radar. Beth’s memoir chronicles the verbal abuse she suffered from her father, but in many ways she jokes about how she wishes she was abused more severely so she could sell more copies. She ends up realizing her small class of students took her class because she was a published author but never ventured out to read her memoir. Beth begins to harbor self-doubts about her talent. Meanwhile, her agent informs Beth how difficult it is to get her book published, but Don continues to encourage her to keep at it, as he has read her every draft and has stayed positive and supportive the whole day.
But during a day of shopping with her close sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins), Beth’s whole trust is shattered after they eavesdrop on a conversation between Don and Sarah’s husband Mark (Arian Moayed) in the sock section at the athletic store, where Beth overhears Don explain to Mark that he didn’t particularly care for drafts that he read. Beth is distraught about the reveal, and it’s quite heartbreaking how the revelation is played out with emotion over laughter, which leads to both women walking away and Beth allowing it to bottle up inside.
Courtesy A24 Films
Holofcener cleverly combats inevitable detractors. It would be easy to dismiss You Hurt My Feelings as being bourgeoise since it’s privileged people having trivial problems, but she cuts deeper in being self-aware about it, while Beth rationalizes it’s her own narcissistic world as the world spins. There is nothing smug about it either, as you end up caring for these compelling characters who earned humanism, and Holofcener finds universal complexities everyone endures, such as aging and discovering constructive ways to become a better person, partner, or even better at your profession or talents. Beth begins to question her worth as a writer, even considering giving up, as Don begins to realize he might not be a successful therapist after his patients show signs of being dissatisfied, which includes a quarreling couple (played by real-life couple Rob Cross and Amber Tamblyn) who claim his sessions aren’t helping their marriage and demand a refund.
It’s always rewarding to watch Holofcener’s writing come to fruition on the big screen. She has such a flair for sharp dialogue, compelling characters, and acute observations, and she merges humor with heartbreak while never falling into sitcom trappings. Even a scene involving her robbery at a pot dispensary managed by her son feels goofy by design but ends up being rendered with some sincere payoff. Her humor is both funny and sad, and yes, I laughed hard and found myself wiping small tears from my eyes as she confronts some of life’s biggest disappointments when it comes to how we measure success in society. Just when you think the film feels too brutally honest or comedic, she hones the story in and finds some warm moments, which include a fantastic scene involving Beth taking her irrational mother, played wonderfully by Jeannie Berlin, who insists Beth and Sarah take leftover potato salad in tin foil instead of her Tupperware in a hilariously staged exchange. Yes, potato salad and the casting of Berlin are a nice homage to the film The Heartbreak Kid, which also co-starred Berlin, who enjoyed potato salad in the classic 1972 film that was written and directed by her mother, Elaine May, who also expertly balanced humor with drama.
Courtesy A24 Films
You end up rooting for Beth and Don to reconcile their differences, even when you feel frustrated by other white lies that are revealed, and yet you’re always charmed by Louis-Dreyfuss and Menzies onscreen chemistry. Whether they are making amends, debating, admitting their faults, or dealing with their son’s own personal grievances where he feels his parent’s over-encouragement and positivity set him up to feel like a failure, in many ways, Owen Teague’s character begins to open up about his bottled-up feelings, which end up becoming contagious and actually needed for Beth and Don’s relationship to grow. His bluntness makes him the most honest character in the film. With only seven features under her belt in nearly 30 years, Holofcener isn’t as prolific as you would think. Her films don’t have bloated budgets and aren’t that technically accomplished, but the writing and performances take her film a long way, and I Hurt Your Feelings is one of her most delightful films. The film is a compelling look at how honesty impacts marriage and relationships, and the result is refreshing.
YOU HURT MY FEELINGS opens in theaters Friday, May 26th.