You Hurt My Feelings, the newest film from writer/director Nicole Holofcener, never feels like it has any significant stakes, but that’s one of its greatest strengths. The film, which centers on writer Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her therapist husband Don (Tobias Menzies), is the kind of light, comfortable, and comforting comedy that is perfect for weekend afternoon viewing.
The characters in the film have no financial concerns, aren’t in danger (the one scene in the movie with a weapon is laugh-out-loud funny, not tense or visceral), and most don’t even have to worry about their relationships dissolving. It’s a film that centers on the wealthy, but not egregiously so, people who only have to worry about their relationships and emotions, which can, of course, be mined for drama, but also make it much easier to keep things fun.
Support or Honesty?
The conflict of the film takes some time to appear. The first third or so feels like a hangout film focused on adults. We see Beth and her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) on outings, Beth working with writing students at the New School, and a glimpse of the almost too-perfect romance that Don and Beth have kept alive for over twenty years of marriage.
But one day, when Beth and Sarah plan to surprise Don and Sarah’s actor husband Mark (Arian Moayed) while the men are shopping together, Beth overhears Don telling Mark that he doesn’t like her new book. When Beth has asked Don about it, he has said that he likes it, that it’s excellent, that she should be confident in the work she’s done, and that it will do well. So when she hears his confession to his brother-in-law, she’s upset.
That distinction between honesty and support, and what our romantic partners may want and need from us, is a fantastic focal point for the film, and Holofcener does a fantastic job exploring it. There are scenes of Beth and Sarah discussing it in which Sarah admits that she doesn’t always think Mark is a great actor but always tells him she does. Don and Beth’s twenty-three-year-old son Elliott (Owen Teague) takes his mother to task for always telling him he is exceptional.
These scenes feel real in a way that makes the viewer consider their thoughts on when to be honest and when to be supportive, or exactly what the best compromise between the two is if they don’t always go hand in hand. What’s remarkable is that even during these sometimes uncomfortably frank conversations about what we all do to protect our loved one’s feelings from our own, Holofcener keeps things light and funny.
She has a keen skill of intertwining her dramatic scenes with humor that allows them to land emotionally and intellectually without becoming overbearing and tipping the scales of the film too far away from comedy.
Comedy of Life
It’s also remarkable that while Holofcener includes a few scenes of broad comedy, most of the humor in the film comes from small interactions. It’s humor that’s not in the content of the words but in their delivery. Quiet responses and throwaway comments said more to oneself than anyone else are the comic bread and butter of the film, which sustains itself well.
Of course, credit for that goes to actors who do a wonderful job of inviting us into their world and making us care for these characters within the first few scenes so that when they make throwaway comments, we know where they’re coming from. It’s a feat that few movies pull off and something generally reserved for long-running sitcoms that have the time to develop characters and make the audience feel at home with those characters.
Even the side characters, who provide most of the broad comedy, feel like people we’ve known for years experiencing all too common issues. Some of the funniest scenes in the movie come courtesy of real-life couple David Cross and Amber Tamblyn, playing a long-struggling and increasingly agitated married couple who have spent years with Don but have seen no results. These scenes are played big by the couple, but they never feel unreal, which makes them fit right in with the rest of the film.
A Delightful, If Forgettable Trip Into Other People’s Lives
You Hurt My Feelings is a lovely little movie that will make you laugh and feel warmth simply by drawing you into its world for an hour and a half. But it’s not the most memorable film. The lightness and the matter-of-factness of most of its comedy make it feel like it may become a comfort movie classic for some viewers and be forgotten by the end of the year by others.
Nothing is wrong with that, especially with something as subjective as comedy. But it keeps the film from transcending beyond a lovely little movie.
Rating: 6.5/10 SPECS
You Hurt My Feelings releases in theaters nationwide on May 26th.
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Looper, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.