When we create something, what reaction do we really want? Do we want the truth? Approval? A weird medium? That’s the question at the heart of Nicole Holofcener’s latest feature, You Hurt My Feelings.
In it, Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a published author very much in love with her therapist husband, Don (Tobias Menzies). They share everything, opinions about their son, information about his clients, and even ice cream straight off the cone. What they don’t share are their real feelings which come to a head when Beth and her sister, Sarah (a perfectly cast Michaela Watkins), overhear Don talking to his brother-in-law, Mark (Arian Moayed).
After being asked by his wife multiple times throughout the film’s first 15-20 minutes whether or not he liked her book, Beth hears his true feelings at a sock shop, which absolutely devastates her. Running out of the store with Sarah in tow, she decides to push her emotions down in favor of hilarious passive-aggression and not telling him that she knows what he said.
Nicole Holofcener has a way of writing and directing what we all are feeling. There’s a grounded nature to her script that doesn’t bore, in fact, it brings out the hilarity of everyday problems. She humanizes every character, which also means showing their flaws. Don is a regretfully clumsy therapist, one who touts honesty to his wife and patients but refuses to do the same in kind. Beth is mothering her adult son in a very similar way that she resents her own mother for. These issues and problems in another director’s hands would be boring, but finding the humor in everyday tragedies is Holofcener’s bread and butter.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is pitch perfect as the hurt Beth, trying to figure out if and when to confront her husband. There’s a hint of projection that Louis-Dreyfus portrays beautifully every time her character asks another for their opinion on her book. She knows that the work is not her best, yet relies on others to talk her out of it. With little quirks of her eyebrows and tiny turnings of the corner of her mouth, Louis-Dreyfus gives a masterclass in subtle comedic delivery.
Yet she gives space for other actors to play. Whoever decided to put Watkins and Louis-Dreyfus together as sisters was a genius. As Beth’s interior designer sister, Watkins is a voice of chaotic reason, trying to talk her sister down off the ledge while admitting her own lies to her actor-husband after his performances.
Zach Cherry, Amber Tamblyn, and her real husband David Cross all pop up in Don’s office as his patients with various neuroses and narcissisms. Most will know Tobias Menzies from his very British roles in Game of Thrones, The Crown, and Outlander. While tonally You Hurt My Feelings is similar to his work on the Irish import This Way Up, most haven’t seen the actor in such a relatable setting. Clearly capable of comedic work, it will be interesting to see where the actor goes from here as he manages to stay in step with Louis-Dreyfus.
While You Hurt My Feelings isn’t some ground-breaking comedy, it is one of the most relatable and enjoyable to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Understated where it needs to be, Holofcener’s script and simple direction combined with stellar performances led by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, You Hurt My Feelings is a comedy people will be referencing in therapists’ offices for years to come.