The Movie Waffler New to VOD - YOU HURT MY FEELINGS | The Movie Waffler


A writer questions her marriage when she overhears her husband speaking negatively about her work.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nicole Holofcener

Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Jeannie Berlin

You Hurt My Feelings poster

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has long been compared to Woody Allen, on whose 1970s and '80s films she worked in various capacities (her parents being Allen collaborators set decorator Carol Joffe and producer Charles H. Joffe). Holofcener's latest, You Hurt My Feelings, might be her most Allen-esque, with its Upper West Side, middle class WASP and Jewish intellectual milieu. That's not to say it's classic Allen but rather it shares similar rhythms to the style of filmmaking Allen has largely adopted over the last 25 years or so: it has a central narrative line on which it hangs various brief episodic asides. I've found this frustrating in many of Allen's recent films, which often play like he's trying to cram as many of his previously unproduced stories into a single film as possible, resulting in movies that are overstuffed with barely realised characters and half-baked scenarios (it's no surprise that Allen's best movies of the past decade are Irrational Man and Blue Jasmine, two movies that maintain their focus on one central character). Holofcener does something similar here, with a central theme and narrative accompanied by a few secondary subplots, but in this case the latter never distract from the former.

You Hurt My Feelings review

The central plot revolves around Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a novelist and writing professor who previously published a somewhat successful memoir but is struggling to sell her latest work of fiction. Her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) is a therapist. His job is to tell people not what they want to hear but rather what they need to hear. When it comes to his wife's professional insecurities he dismisses such an approach. He tells her he loves her writing in the way husbands always tell their wives they look perfect in every dress.

When Beth stumbles upon Don in a department store and overhears his conversation with a friend, she learns the brutal truth. It turns out Don has been lying about her latest work, which he doesn't care for at all. Beth views this as a betrayal, and it drives an instant wedge between the couple.

You Hurt My Feelings review

With this theme Holofcener pushes back against the very modern notion that the worst thing you can do is cause offence. The old maxim of "sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind" has lately been tossed aside in favour of an "everyone gets a medal" mentality that might be well-meaning but is ultimately counter-productive, breeding generations of self-entitled people who find themselves shocked to realise the real world doesn't consider them special. In one scene Beth's son (Owen Teague) lays out how his mother damaged him as a child by always telling him he was brilliant at tasks at which he was really mediocre. Don's defence relies on claiming that he didn't want to discourage his wife's writing. This leads to an amusing standoff where the couple comes clean about how much they hate the gifts they've bought each other over the years.

Other subplots involve Beth's interior decorator sister Sarah's (a charismatic Michael Watkins) attempts to find a light fixture that meets the approval of a fussy client; Sarah's actor husband Mark's (Arian Moayed) own professional doubts; the sisters' relationship with their cantankerous mother (the always delightful Jeannie Berlin); and Don's struggles with an estranged couple (real life couple Amber Tamblyn and David Cross). Rather than detracting from the central drama, these asides give it room to breathe and serve to remind us, if not Beth, that everyone has their own issues to deal with.

You Hurt My Feelings review

Holofcener also seems to be using this film to strike back against the current idea that first world problems can't be worthy of a viewer or reader's attention. Like Lara Flynn Boyle's writer in Todd Solondz's Happiness, Beth bemoans how her father's abuse was verbal rather than physical, which might have given her memoirs some commercial sensation. "Verbal abuse can be awful," her agent reassures her. Coming from a similar background to her characters, Holofcener writes about people and situations she's familiar with, which is what every writing teacher tells their students. It's not a writer's job to appeal to an audience's desire for broad sensation, it's up to the audience member to find common ground in stories that play out in unfamiliar and alien settings. While it might be easy to look at Beth's unfeasibly large apartment and think she has nothing to worry about, you don't have to live in upper Manhattan to relate to self doubt. If you can't find anything worthy in a movie because it doesn't feature characters that resemble you on the outside, that's your problem, not the filmmaker's. And do we really want rich white people making movies about what it might be like to not be rich and white? There are enough examples of the cringey results of such endeavours.

Even if you've never had any self-doubt (and if you haven't you should probably be put on a watch list, because you're clearly a sociopath), it's impossible not to empathise with Beth. Louis-Dreyfus plays the part like a wounded animal, and her embodiment of the emotional hurt she's suddenly engulfed by is akin to a lighter version of seeing Jimmy Stewart depressed and suicidal at the end of It's a Wonderful Life. By global standards, Beth really does have a wonderful life, but like depression, doubt doesn't care about any socio-economic factors.

You Hurt My Feelings
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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