Julia Louis-Dreyfus Struggles to pick up the Pieces in Nicole Holofcener Dramedy
DIRECTED BY NICOLE HOLOFCENER/2023
I hope no one will be too emotionally rattled by my stating that the new Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy-drama could be better.
It’s not the scrunchiest scrunchy-face relationship dramedy ever made, though it does exhibit such leanings. Interestingly, Louis-Dreyfus’ character, published author Beth, is less of a reactor than the actress might typically be known for playing. Here, she’s the one who normally evokes responses from others. A writer desperate for validation, particularly from those she’s closest to.
The central plot only sets off when she is in fact made to react to something she overhears her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies), saying. One day while shopping separately, her plan to comically sneak up on him and his buddy Mark (Arian Moayed) backfires terribly when she realizes that he’s confiding about how he secretly doesn’t like the book that she’s been working on for so long. Beth is crushed. How will she navigate this revelation? Not well!
Meanwhile, Don, an ineffectual therapist, is having a mounting professional crisis of his own. A brash couple (real-life husband and wife David Cross and Amber Tamblyn) who’ve been seeing him for years in hopes of having their volatile marriage mended have finally had it with seeing no progress. Don is not only called out by them as useless, but he overhears another regular apparently badmouthing him under his breath… several times. Is he really a lame therapist? Director/writer/auteur-of-this-sort-of-thing Nicole Holofcener offers no evidence to the contrary.
Likewise, we see no proof that Beth is actually as good of a writer as she fancies herself. Don’s friend Mark is a struggling actor who hits the skids. Beth and Don’s grown son (Owen Teague) is having major relationship issues. Despite his mom’s cloying encouragement, he can’t finish the writing project he’s gotten stuck working on.
Interestingly, You Hurt My Feelings doesn’t seem very invested in how good or not good any of these people are at however they define themselves. Rather, it’s interested in how their personal relationships waver and suffer when their self-assigned roles are called into question. Holofcener zeroes in on such inter-relational insecurities, pinballing from one to another and back around again. She has both the narrative courage and audacity to open entire cans of worms only to leave them unresolved.
Which kinda sorta brings us to the shortcomings of You Hurt My Feelings. Ultimately, it plays as more of an examination than as a story. But then, does every story need a proper ending? Should there even be such an expedient notion as a “proper ending?” Okay, fine.
But THEN…! It’s still not all that funny. My laughs were halfhearted and rare throughout the film’s appreciated ninety-three-minute run time. 2013’s Enough Said, a quite fine little rom-com/drama with James Gandolfi, is absolutely the superior Nicole Holofcener/Julia Louis-Dreyfus collaboration. With You Hurt My Feelings, Louis-Dreyfus’ Beth is the central figure in what could, stardom aside, otherwise be an evenhanded ensemble of identity fragility. Thematically, that’s a really good platform for an upper-middle class mature indie-film character examination such as this. The whole thing, however, falls a bit flat. Kudos to A24 for stepping outside of its particular comfort zone to take a chance on this film… as so-so as it is. Shrug? Scrunchy-face.