‘You Hurt My Feelings’ Review: Julia Louis-Dreyfus Stars in Light, Yet Hilarious Comedy | Sundance 2023
Nicole Holofcener’s screenplays are often about a matter of perspective, whether through the lens of a romantic comedy with Enough Said, the justification of fraud with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, or how a different point-of-view alters a narrative with The Last Duel. With the writer-director’s latest film, You Hurt My Feelings, she continues to explore perspectives, but with a much lighter, quieter approach that’s also deeply hilarious and will resonate with anyone who has had to rely on a white lie.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Beth, a novelist who is struggling with her latest book, and worries that—like her last book—might not get the attention it deserves. Similarly, her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies) is a therapist who isn’t sure he’s that good at his job. Beth’s sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) is an interior designer who is tired of buying dumb crap for people too rich to have good taste, while her husband Mark (Arian Moayed) is an actor who is exhausted with the runaround of trying to be an actor.
Through these relationships and others, Holofcenter is exploring how white lies can help and hurt our connections. For example, Holofcener shows how trust and honesty can alter these bonds through Don, as we spend time with him through several of his therapy sessions. For example, Carolyn and Jonathan (played by Amber Tamblyn and David Cross) have come to Don for years, with no change, and finally, they decide to come clean and admit that he’s not doing anything for their relationship. Similarly, one of Don’s newest clients, Jim (Zach Cherry) accepts Don’s misguided advice, then mutters about how useless he is at the end of their meetings. In some cases, we see how honesty in these relationships is a good thing for Don and his patients, while in other cases, it can hurt both parties.
Yet the central exploration of this idea comes between Beth and Don, and without spoiling the inciting incident, this moment involves one character overhearing something the other person shouldn’t have heard. This moment comes in almost near the end of the first act, as Holofcener allows us to live with these characters, getting to know them in simple moments like during class or volunteering, before upending these dynamics through this reveal that might seem minor, yet would seem earth-shattering for those involved.
This is the beauty of Holofcener’s tone, which isn’t rushed or full of massive stakes, but still has a rich and complicated collection of viewpoints to delve into. As with her last collaboration with Holofcener, Enough Said, Louis-Dreyfus is a perfect match for Holofcener’s style. The two work beautifully together, and Louis-Dreyfus is able to show a more reserved side of her humor, while still being hysterical. Louis-Dreyfus and Menzies also have excellent chemistry together, and their character’s only child Elliott (Owen Teague) often feels like a third wheel because of their closeness.
But it’s You Hurt My Feelings’ low-key, restrained style that makes Holofcener’s film feel so special. This isn’t the type of comedy we usually see anymore, where the movie takes its time, and doesn’t focus on absurd situations, or wild shifts in the plot. Instead, this is largely about a bunch of middle-aged men and women debating when small lies should and shouldn’t be used in a relationship. And because of those smaller stakes, You Hurt My Feelings becomes an affecting and relatable comedy of light errors and poor choices.
You Hurt My Feelings is the type of film that reminds us why Holofcener is one of the best writers of comedies today, and that her ability to write films with such small consequences can often feel like a massive achievement, as these are situations that feel honest and human and wholly earnest. You Hurt My Feelings is right in line with Holofcener’s other directorial comedy work, but we need more films like these, which spotlight the minutiae of our lives, the absurdity of failing at trying to do what’s right, and the inherent humor within the everyday.