You Hurt My Feelings is a warm look at slight problems
Over the course of six features, director Nicole Holofcener has built a career out of sharply observed relationship studies, usually wrapped up in white, upper-middle-class milieu. She’s largely foregone making movies in recent years, turning her attention toward screenwriting collaborations (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Last Duel) and directing for television.
But now, 10 years after releasing her last feature, Enough Said, she’s back in the director’s chair with You Hurt My Feelings, a sweet, slight comedy of manners that reunites Holofcener with her previous leading lady, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
This time around, the comedy icon plays Beth, a moderately successful New York novelist who leads a fittingly mundane yet cushy Manhattan life. She spends her days halfheartedly teaching writing and tending a clothing stall for the unhoused with her unflappable sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins), all while pushing to get her second book published with the support of her loving therapist husband Don (The Crown’s Tobias Menzies). Even her greatest worries are toothless, from grousing over her aspiring writer son Elliot’s (Owen Teague) weed store job to dealing with her stubborn aging mother (Jeannie Berlin).
So imagine Beth’s surprise when she overhears Don criticizing her new novel to her brother-in-law Mark (Succession’s Arian Moayed), despite offering up endless validation about it to her face. Her profound sense of betrayal comes as Don grapples with his own questionable skills as a therapist, most notably with a particularly venomous married couple (played with scene-stealing fervor by real-life partners David Cross and Amber Tamblyn).
Even for a director who’s always been fascinated by minute conflicts, the particularly low, predictable stakes of You Hurt My Feelings don’t make it one of the most memorable entries in Holofcener’s filmography. However, her characters remain so effortlessly lived-in and their cloistered ecosystems so rich with understated detail that it remains satisfying to watch their tiny, narcissistic ego crises unfold. If only our own day-to-day troubles received a modicum of that same wit!
It helps that the always-great Louis-Dreyfus leads a sterling ensemble of new and returning Holofcener performers. Specific shout-outs are in order for Moayed, who brings his own indelible charm to his struggling actor character Mark, who gives off rom-com-era Mark Ruffalo energy in the best way; and Teague, who brings real pathos to a sometimes-trite storyline of an aimless 20-something with his own thoughts about where his parents might’ve gone wrong.
Of course, creatives themselves are bound to find plenty to parse (for better or worse), as You Hurt My Feelings’ characters ponder that age-old question: Am I actually putting great, lasting work out into the world? Or am I a mediocre talent getting by on reassurances that are borne more out of love than anything else? As Holofcener posits, it’s a question that can’t be solely defined within our loved ones’ scattered, ever-changing perspectives — and really, what’s so bad about that?