Since her debut film, 1996’s “Walking and Talking”, Nicole Holofcener has been one of Independent Cinema’s most interesting writer/directors. This year’s Sundance entry “You Hurt My Feelings” is further proof of her talents.
In her latest film, Holofcener looks at truth and betrayal in a marriage, but not the betrayal of being unfaithful. This picture is about how seemingly inconsequential lies can be the most damning.
What happens when you overhear the person with whom you have the deepest connection admit something different from what they tell you? Have they been trying to spare your feelings? Can you ever believe them again and is there a way back to trust once it has been broken?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Beth, an author and writing teacher hoping for success with her second book, as her first book did just okay.
Beth’s husband Don (Tobias Menzies) is a therapist whose style is to listen more than add his insights. Perhaps he listens too much, too the point of distraction or disinterest.
In an excellent sequence, Don is seeing an aggressively angry and unhappy married couple (David Cross and Amber Tamblyn, who are married in real life). These are two people he knows he will never be able to help, yet he sits quietly, biting his tongue regarding his real feelings towards their marital issues.
Beth is somewhat neurotic and doesn’t seem to realize she is a bit too dependent on the opinions of others, a fact that will be revealed to her when she accidentally hears her husband claim he has been faking his admiration for her new novel.
Michaela Watkins (one of the most welcome character actresses in films today) and Arian Moayed are Beth’s sister Sarah and brother-in-law Mark, a married couple at their own crossroads.
Sarah is becoming disgusted with her job as an interior decorator for snooty rich clients, while Mark is disillusioned with acting after being replaced on a project.
Owen Teague is great as Beth and Don’s son, who is going through his own relationship issues with his unfaithful girlfriend.
There is a wealth of ideas found in this film, as Holofcener’s screenplay also looks at one’s purpose and the value of self-worth. Does our career define us? Are we colored by our failures?
Holofcener has always been skilled at creating truthful moments infused with an anxious humor.
In one of the film’s best scenes (a supremely uncomfortable and very funny moment), Beth confronts her husband at Mark’s birthday dinner, revealing she heard his comment about her book. This leads to Beth accusing Don of placating her feelings as a form of communicating his love.
There are many scenes in this film that could be categorized as some of the filmmaker’s best.
When Beth visits her son at work (a weed dispensary) the two actors have a sweet and natural feel, as mom disapproves of her son working there but isn’t aggressive in letting him know. Beth’s writing class holds more comic tones, as her students are somewhat aloof in their understanding of writing and Beth learns that none of them have read her first book.
Jeannie Berlin has good scenes as Beth and Sarah’s mother, a woman set in her New York ways. Berlin’s performance gives the right number of hints as to why her two daughters are still somewhat in flux.
All of the director’s films are impeccably cast and in Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Holofcener has found the “Diane Keaton” to her “Woody Allen”.
Louis-Dreyfus previously starred in the filmmaker’s 2013 gem “Enough Said”, a film that could very well hold the actress’s best performance. Once again, director and star find organic harmony, with Louis-Dreyfus easily navigating her well-drawn character. The two understand each other’s language and their pairing is a perfect fit.
The line that connects all of Nicole Holofcener’s work is the honesty in her writing.
The filmmaker uses humor to get to truth. The characters in her films deal with issues big and small, but Holofcener doesn’t grandstand in her depictions of them, nor does she make fun or judge too harshly.
This is everyday existence. Marriage and relationships, sex and love, work, life, and all that comes with it.
Nicole Holofcener’s “You Hurt My Feelings” is a smart, funny, and assured film that continues her successful track as one of the sincerest filmmakers working today.
A24 will release the film later this year.
You Hurt My Feelings
Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Jeannie Berlin
NR, 93 Minutes, A24/FilmNation Entertainment/Likely Story