Filmmaker Nicole Holfcener hasn’t directed a movie since 2013, but she’s back with the new character study YOU HURT MY FEELINGS and it makes me wish she’d get the opportunity to write and direct a film every year. Her films are always smart, humorous, well-played, and a little painful. That’s because Holofcener is an acute observer of human frailty and how our foibles affect how we relate to others and the world around us. In her latest, she examines the lies – some big, some small – that we tell those we love and why it is that we do so. The characters may be elite married New Yorkers, but the feelings and actions portrayed in their story are universal.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Beth, a novelist struggling to get her second book published. Her first one received good reviews, but it didn’t sell as well as it could have, so she’s determined to get both parts right this time. She wonders whether she’s got an honest agent, willing to be frank with her about its commercial prospects. It also doesn’t help Beth’s insecurities that she’s nagged by fears of not being particularly talented. Is that why her tome didn’t sell? Fortunately, her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) loves her writing and is endlessly supportive of the new book, even after reading draft after draft after draft.
But then one day, when Beth and her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) pop in on their husbands shopping for socks, she overhears Don confess to Sarah’s hubby Mark (Arian Moayed) that he dislikes her new book. Beth is mortified and starts to question whether she can trust anything in their relationship. What other truths is he holding back from her?
Holofcener makes Beth’s pain palpable because none of us can ever really truly know what’s in someone else’s mind. Beth’s pain becomes funnier and funnier too the more she becomes obsessed with breaking through the bullshit. She’s quietly mortified to find out that her sister happily feigns the truth all the time, rarely sharing her true feelings with her hyper-sensitive actor husband. Beth isn’t comforted any more by the fact that after she confronts Don, he’s non-plussed and admits he often spares her feelings. He does the same as a psychologist, holding back from his patients what he really thinks of them. David Cross and Amber Tamblyn play a married couple that he’s counseling who are so hostile, and hilariously so, that he doesn’t dare mention how loathsome they are.
Beth also is forced to deal with the little white lies she tells too, from those that coddle her hyper-sensitive adult son Eliot (Owen Teague) to the half-truths that keep her aging mother at bay. Beth’s mom is played by the splendidly droll Jeannie Berlin in a very wily supporting performance. All the actors perform well, especially Louis-Dreyfus who makes Beth one of the more fully-dimensional female characters on screen in sometime. She’s attractive, mean, pitiable, and sweet – often all in one scene. Louis-Dreyfus is truly one of our greatest actresses working today and she delivers the dramatic moments just as well here as the comedic ones.
Some may think that low stakes narratives like this one, let alone subtly sly filmmaking like Nicole Holofcener’s should be relegated to the small screen, but I think it’s wonderful to see studios like A24 placing such films in the cineplex. Human beings are always more fascinating than any car chase or CGI fantasy, and with Holofcener writing and directing films about such fascinating folks, long may she reign.