It’s always a celebratory moment when we receive a new film from Nicole Holofcener, and that’s especially true of her latest film which stars Julia Louis Dreyfus. You hurt my feelings, which had its premiere Sunday night at sun danceis the second collaboration of the duo, with that of 2013 Enough said with the late James Gandolfini being the first. This film, and other Holofcener writing and directing efforts such as Friends with money, lovely and amazing and maybe my favorite, please donate (not forgetting the wonderful Can you ever forgive me? which she co-wrote), focused on the quirky nature of our relationships with others in our lives. Holofcener has always had a knack for getting right to the heart of things, often with a witty, wise, and truthful touch.
This film is one of his best – with themes of trust, honesty, truth and lies at its center. Louis-Dreyfus plays happily married Beth, who is the author of a memoir and about to finish her first novel. She volunteers with her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) to help the homeless and gives a short course in creative writing. She seems to have a great relationship with her husband Don (Tobias Menzies of The crown and game of thrones), a therapist who also becomes a bit more conceited in middle age, wondering if he should have plastic surgery around his eyes (“I was so hot,” he laments). They are the parents of 23-year-old Eliot (Owen Teague), who are so close and trusting that he can’t believe they still share each other’s food, even ice cream cones. So what could go wrong?
Let’s move on to the main premise of Holofcener, which takes center stage when Beth overhears Don’s conversation with his brother-in-law, an actor named Mark (Arian Moayed), about his frustration at having to read and comment on draft after draft of his novel even though he says he doesn’t really like it. This devastates her, but she keeps it to herself until it becomes clear that it has chilled their relationship. Holofcener is interested in our honesty to loved ones, the “little lies” we tell that might be necessary to show our support and encouragement, but might not reveal the full truth. Does it matter in otherwise healthy relationships? Holofcener finds many ways to examine it, not just with Beth and Don, but just about every other key character that floats in and out of this very human, character-driven comedy.
Honesty also enters into both of their professions as Beth tries to encourage her students, not always when warranted. Don also has to tell the truth head-on with a warring couple (Amber Tamblyn and David Cross, very funny) who come to him for therapy with no visible results, ultimately leading them to demand a refund. There’s also Beth and Sarah’s needy mother, Georgia, played with comic perfection by Jeannie Berlin in a role that could have been played by her mother, Elaine May. Like mother, like daughter and both clearly brilliant. Teague is also aptly cast as their son who works at a cannabis store but is also trying to become a writer with his parents’ encouragement, though perhaps not always honestly. Watkins and Moayed provide exceptional support.
The crux of it all is how damaging our own feelings and opinions can be before they hurt those of the people closest to us? It’s all presented in an understated yet entertaining way by a filmmaker whose observations of human frailties and behavior hit the nail on the head every time. There is a lot to tell here in this A24 version which should play very well on the specialized circuit. Louis-Dreyfus is a gift for comedy, as she has proven again two times this week, not only here but also in Kenya Barris’ sublime Netflix comedy You people. Menzies was not an obvious choice but an ideal cast, in fact. Together they create a pretty honest marriage where it really matters, and frankly at a Sundance festival that’s packed with films illustrating a lot, a lot darker visions of our relationships with each other, You hurt my feelings gives me hope.
The producers are Stefanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman, Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus.