Review of You Hurt My Feelings (Sundance).

With You Hurt My Feelings, Nicole Holofcener makes a funny, touching comedy about the lies we tell each other.

REASON: A fragile writer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a seemingly idyllic marriage falls apart when she realizes that her husband (Tobias Menzies) does not like her new book.

REVIEW: When you’re in a relationship, it’s often necessary to tell little white lies to spare your partner’s feelings. The same is true of any relationship, be it between a parent and a child, two friends, two colleagues, and more. Honesty is not always the best policy. In her latest film, writer and director Nicole Holofcener looks at an incredibly happy marriage. She is a writer with some (but not a ton) success, while he is a (mostly successful) psychiatrist. She’s written her first piece of fiction and he told her he loved it, but she overhears him telling a friend that he lied and that it’s simply “not for him.” It’s mild criticism, but she breaks down and drinks wine at a bar before long, feeling only rage towards her mild-mannered husband.

This is interesting material for Holofcener to tackle. Sundance this year has been full of films about men falling apart when the power dynamics shift in a relationship, but Holofcener does the opposite. This is a bit daring today, but it’s worth mentioning that all the characters in this are remarkably likable. While Julia Louis-Dreyfus‘s Beth is self-absorbed, she lacks cruelty, and the actress, one of the best in the business, knows exactly how to play the part. She’s a pro at character-based comedy, and Holfcener knows how to showcase her at her best.

I also enjoyed Tobias Menzies as Louis-Dreyfus’ kind-hearted, shrunken husband, Don (a far cry from his roles on Outlander or The crown). One of the film’s big themes is about losing the joy of your work in middle age, and his character is shown to be suffering from a crisis of confidence and seemingly unable to help his patients. His most notable, self-perceived failures are a bickering couple played by real-life married David Cross and Amber Tamblyn, who agree on only one thing – that their psychiatrist is no good. He’s also starting to feel old, with the lines on his face becoming more finely etched. He and Louis-Dreyfus have a lovely chemistry, and it’s remarkable that the fight they get into never threatens to derail their marriage or their lives. Instead, the film is more interested in navigating a situation like this and how lying isn’t always such a bad thing.

The relationship between Beth and Don is contrasted with another husband-wife relationship, in which Michaela Watkins plays her sister, Sarah, who is in a relationship with an aspiring actor, Mark (Adrian Moayed), who is suffering from a crisis of confidence. Is he a good actor? The film leaves it up in the air for most of the runtime, with the point being that Sarah, because she loves Mark, will always try to spare his feelings. That’s just how it goes in relationships.

The film also tries to extend this perspective to parenthood, where Beth proudly proclaims her son (Owen Teague), who works at a pharmacy, to be a genius, even though he neither wants nor needs her constant validation. The film explores why Beth thinks it’s okay to lie to her son to spare his feelings, but when her husband does it, it’s a great sin that threatens their happy relationship.

In the end, you can always count on Holofcener to dig deeper into the dynamics of a relationship while maintaining an even hand. Her films are good because she knows the ins and outs of human interaction better than most directors. While ultimately a modest film, it’s a feel-good story that revolves around an ultimately likable cast of characters, even if they all suffer from their share of quirks. Once again, Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus make a good team (cont Enough Said), and this should play to an appreciative audience when A24 releases it later this year.




Review of You Hurt My Feelings (Sundance).

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