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The problems at the center of "You Hurt My Feelings" may seem insignificant from the outside, but when they happen to you, they're seismic. In particular, she vividly depicts the insecurity creative people experience when offering something personal to the world. We're exposing ourselves, and we're inviting criticism. It's certainly a subject Holofcener knows well after 30 years of making movies. But she also taps into a broader topic in our tendency to withhold brutal honesty to avoid hurting someone's feelings or perhaps steer clear of the awkwardness of confrontation. How many times have you told a friend or loved one you liked their new haircut, or that meal they cooked was delicious, or those jeans don't make their butt look big? It's just easier. It seems harmless.
"You Hurt My Feelings" explores what might happen if we learned what others really thought about us—when people stop being polite and start getting real.
Beth is a novelist and writing professor at The New School who's just finished her latest book. As she anxiously awaits feedback from her agent, she confides her worries to her ever-supportive therapist husband, Don (a lovely Tobias Menzies). But when she overhears him telling someone he actually thinks her new novel is terrible, she's understandably shattered. Louis-Dreyfus finds such a tricky balance in how she plays this moment: There's humor in it, for sure, because it's such an uncomfortable situation, but she also conveys the deep hurt Beth is feeling inside. Decades of trust get obliterated with a few words in seconds. It's a lot to juggle emotionally.
Holofcener portrays the extreme opposite of the instinct to be polite through a hilarious series of therapy sessions Don has with a miserable married couple, played by real-life husband and wife David Cross and Amber Tamblyn. The cruelly blunt way they talk to each other isn't the right answer, either. Neither is the passive-aggressive judgement and nagging of Beth and Sarah's mother, played by the distinctively sharp Jeannie Berlin.
As she's done consistently throughout her films, including "Lovely & Amazing," "Friends with Money," and "Please Give," Holofcener finds both humor and wisdom within the complexity of her cringe comedy, providing rich fodder for conversations afterward. If anything, "You Hurt My Feelings" might be a little too short; it's so well-paced and engrossing it just zips by. The moral of the story seems to be: Honesty is better in the long term, even if it's unpleasant immediately. But in Holofcener's films, as in real life, that's not so simple.— Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com
Wed September 20, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
United States of America, 2023, in English, 93 min • official site
Director: Nicole Holofcener, Writer: Nicole Holofcener, Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Owen Teague