Nicole Holofcener finds hilarity in insecurity with this exploration of marriage, creativity, and honesty.
The white lie at the center of You Hurt My Feelings isn’t harmless, nor does it spiral out to reveal lie upon lie, turning a marriage into a house of cards. Instead, it lies somewhere less explored: a trivial thing whose impact is understandably real. It’s a fine line to walk, but Nicole Holofcener does just that, and with a razor-sharp wit to boot.
It’s an exploration of how a bump in the road can be used to explore what honesty in a relationship really means, how we find meaning in what we do and what we love, and how we struggle to fight the messages we internalize.
Beth and Don’s marriage seems solid, if not exactly idyllic. They’re both struggling professionally — Don as a therapist who worries he isn’t making an impact, and Beth as a writer who’s terrified her new book won’t be a success. Luckily, they have each other to lean on for support, at least until Beth overhears Don telling a friend that he doesn’t actually like her latest novel. Beth is heartbroken and finds herself questioning not just her relationship with her husband, but her entire career as a result.
As Beth, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in typical top form, bringing her insecurities to the surface in a way that’s both heartbreaking and hilarious. When sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins, Casual) tries to comfort her saying “[Don] loves you more than life itself!” a teary-eyed Beth can only respond indignantly, “What does that have to do with anything!” Louis-Dreyfus is so honest, it’s hard not to see her point at that moment. It’s absurd, yes, but she knows exactly how to sell the emotion of realizing the person you love most in the world doesn’t like the thing you’ve poured your heart and soul into.
But Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t shine alone. Tobias Menzies (The Crown) as Don is excellent at portraying his rock-steady love of Beth and his own weariness over his career and his mounting insecurities over his age. Watkins radiates sisterly energy, eager to support her sister in her time of need and also attempt to rein in her spiraling while managing her own crisis of identity.
That we get to see how each character deals with their own wavering sense of identity is part of what’s so refreshing about the film as a whole and what Holofcener does so well. You Hurt My Feelings understands that it’s often these small crises of faith that trip us up in our day to day, and that their smallness makes them no less worthy of being dealt with.
In a couple of particularly memorable supporting roles, David Cross and Amber Tamblyn provide an excellent point of contrast. As a couple seeking counseling from Don, they have a ball tearing each other down in outright nasty ways. Their problems are big and obvious and seem to far overshadow what’s going on between Don and Beth. But Holofcener isn’t actually interested in pitting couples against each other in a contest of “who has it worse.” All she really wants to do is talk about what it means to love someone and want to be honest with them and protect them at the same time.
In You Hurt My Feelings, Holofcener gives our most absurd insecurities weight, just not so much we forget it’s okay to laugh at them, too.
You Hurt My Feelings opens in theaters May 26th.