It is always a time for celebration when we get a new Nicole Holofcener film, and that is especially true of her latest one that stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus. You Hurt My Feelings, which had its premiere Sunday night at Sundance, is the pair’s second collaboration, with 2013’s Enough Said co-starring the late James Gandolfini being the first. That film, and other Holofcener writing-directing efforts such as Friends with Money, Lovely & Amazing and perhaps my favorite, Please Give (not to forget the wonderful Can You Ever Forgive Me? which she co-wrote), focused on the quirky nature of our relationships with others in our lives. Holofcener just has always had a knack for getting right to the heart of things, often with a witty, wise and truthful touch.
This film is one of her best — with themes of trust, honesty, truth and lies at its center. Louis-Dreyfus plays happily married Beth, who is an author of a memoir and about to finish her first novel. She volunteers with her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) to help the homeless and teaches a small creative writing class. She seems to have a great relationship with her husband Don (Tobias Menzies of The Crown and Game of Thrones), a therapist who also is getting a little more vain in his middle age, wondering if he should have some plastic surgery around his eyes (“I used to be so hot,” he laments). They are the parents of 23-year-old Eliot (Owen Teague), who are so close and trusting he can’t believe they still share each other’s food, even ice cream cones. So what could go wrong?
On to Holofcener’s main premise, which takes center stage when Beth overhears Don’s conversation with her brother-in-law, an actor named Mark (Arian Moayed), about his frustration having to read and comment on draft after draft of her novel even though he says he doesn’t really like it. This devastates her, but she keeps it to herself until it is apparent it has chilled their relationship. Holofcener is interested in our honesty with our loved ones, the “little lies” we tell that might be necessary to show support and encouragement but maybe not revealing the total truth. Does it matter in otherwise healthy relationships? Holofcener finds many ways to examine it, not just with Beth and Don, but just about every other key character that floats in and out of this very human and character-driven comedy.
Honesty also comes into both their professions as Beth tries to be encouraging to her students, not when always warranted. Don also faces telling the truth head-on with one warring couple (Amber Tamblyn and David Cross, very funny) who have been coming to him for therapy with no visible results, eventually leading them to demand a refund. There also is Beth’s and Sarah’s needy mother, Georgia, played with comedic perfection by Jeannie Berlin in a role that actually could have been played by her mother, Elaine May. Like mother, like daughter and both clearly brilliant. Teague also is well cast as their son who works in a cannabis store but also is attempting to become a writer with encouragement from his parents, but maybe not always complete honesty. Watkins and Moayed offer sterling support.
The crux of this all is, how damaging can our own feelings and opinions be before hurting those of the people closest to us? It is all presented in low-key but amusing fashion by a filmmaker whose observations of human foibles and behavior hit the bullseye every time. There is much to relate to here in this A24 release that should play very well on the specialty circuit. Louis-Dreyfus is a gift to comedy, as she has proven again twice this week, not only here but also in Kenya Barris’ sublime Netflix comedy You People. Menzies was not an obvious choice but ideal casting, as it turns out. Together they create a marriage that is honest enough where it really counts, and quite frankly in a Sundance festival that is full of films depicting much, much darker visions of our relationships with one another, You Hurt My Feelings gives me hope.
Producers are Stefanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman, Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus.