Vague Visages’ You Hurt My Feelings review contains minor spoilers. Nicole Holofcener’s 2023 movie stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies and Michaela Watkins. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
You Hurt My Feelings is a funny and contemplative film about what happens when the young and upwardly mobile professional becomes listless and uncertain. The jokes aren’t that of the most incisive satire or the most brutal black comedy, but Nicole Holofcener’s 2023 film is witty, grounded and surprisingly uplifting. The writer-director’s tight script is also assisted by an excellent score, which conveys comedy through sounds that underscore the awkward and absurd. You Hurt My Feelings avoids the tone of a traditional family drama while still feeling authentic.
Holofcener shapes You Hurt My Feelings around the relationship between Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), an author who teaches writing classes at The New School, and Don (Tobias Menzies), a therapist struggling with his patients and their perception of him. Both characters feel unsure of their professional abilities — Beth’s memoir sold well, but not as well as she expected, and her literary agent (LaTanya Richardson Jackson as Sylvia) doesn’t love her new novel. Meanwhile, Don isn’t sure how much he’s helping his patients, and some of them are explicit about losing their faith in him. What could become a tragic tale of lost love transforms into a funny story about frustration, communication and the little lies — the morale-protecting bending of truth, which can act as support — of a relationship.
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Owen Teague plays Beth and Don’s son, Elliot, an aspiring playwright working at a cannabis dispensary. His big clothes and wavy hair aesthetic reminds of the teens from late-90s and early-2000s films, but that may just be how Gen Z is dressing now. Early on, Elliot feels almost like a distraction, bothered by the symbiosis of his parents’ relationship in a way not completely meritless but invoking the contextless ways children often complain. Then, around the halfway point, Elliot’s frustrations culminate in a conversation about always feeling like a third wheel and the expectations they lofted onto him in his childhood, leading the couple to think about their own honesty with each other. This is very effective writing and direction — to make a character feel like an interloper and then have them bring that feeling to the fore as a crux of their personal conflict and distress. In fact, Elliot’s interpersonal problems with his offscreen girlfriend and an unfinished script parallel and complement those of his feuding parents.
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You Hurt My Feelings is primarily about confronting age as a prism through which one tries to define success. The parents don’t want money, as rent money, food and shelter are never the concerns. Don is the more calm, silent character, sometimes appearing almost aloof with his patients. In contrast, Beth feels more tightly-wound. She certainly isn’t as erratic as Elaine in Seinfeld or as angry as Margo in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — Beth is just a woman with dreams, an artist with things to say. She’s a loving and wounded wife, and also a doting mother. Louis-Dreyfus excels at making viewers root for her.
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The main cast is rounded out by Michaela Watkins as Beth’s sister, Sarah, alongside Succession alums Jeannie Berlin and Arian Moayed as Georgia (Beth and Sarah’s mother) and Mark (Sarah’s husband), respectively. Mark is a struggling actor whose pride and self-confidence has been hurt by his mixed career success, and Sarah is an interior designer increasingly dissatisfied with her work, feeling it’s a waste of time that she should move on from. Their relationship parallels but does not exactly mirror that of their in-laws. Altogether, these are compassionate people among the working upper-middle class, not embittered strivers jealous of one another’s success. The vanity, vapidity or self-consciousness of their struggles is also explicated — they all know that there are bigger struggles in the world but are simply managing their own place and problems within it. Real life married couple David Cross (Jonathan) and Amber Tamblyn (Carolyn) steal scenes as an unhappily pair, and Zach Cherry plays another of Don’s discontent patients, Jim. They all lend original voices to the comedic vibe.
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There is a play aspect to You Hurt My Feelings, but it’s only slight and doesn’t contribute to a feel of stiltedness. The world it depicts is, for the most part, a pleasant interpretation of New York City, obsessed with neither crime nor corruption; the police hardly figure in at all.
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You Hurt My Feelings isn’t a particularly political movie except in the broad acceptance of the status quo through a few mild critiques of economic injustice (for the unhoused and for people trained to be professionals working as tellers) and a general understanding that the wider world has larger issues beyond our day-to-day grievances and insecurities. The cast feels intimate, but there are tons of extras because Holofcener situates You Hurt My Feelings against the vast backdrop of everyone else living their lives. She intentionally reminds the audience of how small we all are in the imagined grand scheme, along with how much is going on around us, and how that doesn’t take away from the legitimacy of our feelings.
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You Hurt My Feelings succeeds at telling a funny story about romantic, familial love and the pursuit of career success. It’s not an overwhelming film that’s likely to shatter a worldview — just a funny and evenhanded dramedy about ambition, frustration and humility.
Kevin Fox, Jr. (@KevinFoxJr) is a freelance writer, editor and film critic. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine and People’s World. Kevin has an MA in history, loves audiovisual entertainment and dreams of liberation. Check out his Substack at kfjwrites.substack.com.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, Comedy, Drama, Featured, Uncategorized
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