Nicole Holofcener has made a decades-long career out of using her trademark gentle style of cringe comedy to elucidate larger truths about the human condition. In the hands of any other writer or director, some of her films might wither into the uncanny valley of milquetoast romantic comedies, but she always brings a crucial authenticity and a bite to her stories. You Hurt My Feelings is no exception, even if it doesn’t quite hit the heights of Please Give or Enough Said.
Speaking of Enough Said, it feels like Holofcener has found a new muse in Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Now in their second pairing, Louis-Dreyfus seems wonderfully cozy in the world of Holofcener’s brutally honest human observations. She plays Beth, a novelist whose long and happy marriage to therapist Don (Tobias Menzies) starts to take on a different tenor when she overhears his real thoughts on her as-yet-unpublished book.
What’s great about Feelings is that it is actually about feelings. The contents of the book don’t matter a whit to Holofcener, and that’s a very good thing. She’s far more interested in her themes of relationship-versus-career and the dangers of love growing stale. This is true on Don’s side as well. His clients’ problems (and their problems with him specifically) are used mostly for comedic effect, and they only grow in emotional import insofar as his arc builds. He’s on a similar emotional journey to his wife — it’s about learning how to be more present, but in subtle, believable ways. While Holofcener’s films are never downers, her solutions to her characters’ problems are blessedly as far away from bumper-sticker tropes as you could get.
Michaela Watkins and Arian Moayed co-star as Sarah (Watkins), Beth’s sister, and Mark (Moayed), Sarah’s husband. Their subplots involve many of the same themes as the main storyline, as Sarah is unhappy in her interior-design job and Mark is an unfulfilled actor. Watkins especially brings a hefty dose of sarcastic bite to her role, often tag-teaming the satirical side of the film with Louis-Dreyfus. It’s an extremely enjoyable point-counterpoint duet they weave, juggling the film’s two tones quite well.
Then there’s Eliot (Owen Teague), Beth’s adult son. His is the weak spot of the film, not because of anything to do with Teague’s performance, but because Eliot often feels like a plot device designed to jump us to the next mini-chapter of Beth and Don’s marriage. He even calls this out at one point, saying he often feels like a third wheel. I wish the movie hadn’t treated him like one as well. I realize there’s only so much time in a rom-com structure like this, but Holofcener’s flawlessly intelligent dialogue often reveals more interesting territory for the character to tread, and I wanted to see a bit more of that.
Despite my minor quibbles, You Hurt My Feelings is another charming, hilarious, and tonally adept delight from Holofcener. Its balance of emotional maturity and cutting humor is something sorely lacking in many other films of its type, and for that reason, Holofcener is someone whose unique voice is always worth going to the theater to support and enjoy. | George Napper