You Hurt My Feelings (2023)

by - May 26th, 2023 - Movie Reviews


Upsettingly Funny You Hurt My Feelings Finds Truth in Telling Lies

Nicole Holofcener returns with the upsettingly funny You Hurt My Feelings, and while the talented filmmaker’s latest may not rank alongside her best motion pictures, like Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, or Please Give, that still makes this incisive observational effort likely one of the better comedies I’ll see in all of 2023. It features ace performances from its talented ensemble — including a spellbinding turn from lead Julia Louis-Dreyfus that’s nothing short of extraordinary — and moments of emotional explosiveness I did not see coming.

You Hurt My Feelings (2023) | PHOTO: A24

New York novelist and literary professor Beth (Louis-Dreyfus) is happily married to psychiatrist Don (Tobias Menzies). She frequently shows up at the neighborhood pot shop her son Eliot (Owen Teague) manages to passive-aggressively pester him about the status of the play he’s protectively been working on since graduating from college. Beth and her sardonic interior decorator sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) also diligently share random afternoon lunches with crotchety Georgia (Jeannie Berlin), using these random visits to also fish for seldomly worn clothing items they can donate to a local church’s homeless outreach program.

After spending an afternoon wandering around New York, Beth and Sarah decide to surprise the latter’s husband Mark (Arian Moayed), an out-of-work actor, while he’s obsessively shopping for socks with Don. Before they are spotted, the sisters overhear the two men discussing Beth’s new book, her first fictional effort, which she’s having trouble getting published. Turns out, Don hates it but is too afraid to reveal his sentiments to his wife, so he’s been holding this secret close to the vest in the hope of not hurting her feelings.

It’s a simple enough premise, but Holofcener gets massive mileage out of it all the same. These characters and their troubles may not amount to much, but this does not make their issues any less universal. There is a relatable eloquence to these events, with the filmmaker emphasizing how people can communicate with one another with the best of intentions and love in their hearts — yet still cause unimaginable agony with the potential to destroy any semblance of trust. The line between the truth and a lie slowly vanishes into nothingness; it could be argued it never actually existed in the first place.

You Hurt My Feelings lives up to its title. This is cringe comedy in the best of ways. I became increasingly anxious as I watched the film, my heart rate accelerating to the point I was nearly out of breath during critical junctures. The moment in which Eliot bares his soul to his parents — as he reveals hard truths every kid has thought but few have ever said aloud — shook me senseless. Another scene where Beth and Don realize how poorly they’ve remained intimately connected over the years while discussing anniversary gifts is hysterically heartbreaking, while a quiet moment between Sarah and Mark — when the latter is at his most nakedly vulnerable — brought tears to my eyes.

But there is catharsis and understanding to be found in this suffering. It’s not as if everyone is going to suddenly live their life spouting only truth and being bluntly honest with their loved ones, and that’s as it should be. But what is learned is that white lies, no matter how well-intentioned, can still hurt like the dickens; that concealing truths, no matter how painful, can unintentionally leave lasting scars; and that telling someone what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sometimes, breaking up and going in separate directions is for the best, while sticking it out to the bitter end can make long-festering wounds worse, not better.

You Hurt My Feelings (2023) | PHOTO: A24

Everyone’s acting is great, and even the bit players who wander in and out of Don’s office (a broad mixture of familiar faces, including Amber Tamblyn, David Cross, and Zach Cherry) slip into their various idiosyncratic shells with eloquent sincerity. But it is Louis-Dreyfus who makes all of this work as well as it does, her performance a free-flowing acrobatic high-wire act that only grows in passion and power as the film moves toward its sublimely intoxicating conclusion.

Holofcener isn’t shattering previously unexplored myths or drawing conclusions that filmmakers going back to the silent era haven’t already explored numerous times over. But she still brings a heartfelt eloquence to this journey that is refreshingly authentic. These characters ring true, and even when the dialogue gets overly theatrical and the humor treads perilously close to echoing a 1990s sitcom, there’s still something bracingly natural about it. I have a sneaky suspicion I’m going to be pondering the myriad ins and outs of You Hurt My Feelings for quite some time.

Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)

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