THE STORY – New York novelist Beth has been working for years on the follow-up to her somewhat successful memoir, sharing countless drafts with her approving, supportive husband Don. Beth’s world quickly unravels when she overhears Don admit to her brother-in-law, Mark, that actually, he doesn’t like the new book. She vents to her sister Sara that decades of a loving, committed marriage pale in comparison to this immense betrayal. Meanwhile, therapist Don faces his own professional problems as he finds himself unable to care about or even recall his unhappy patients’ issues anymore… and they’ve begun to notice.
THE CAST – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Owen Teague, Arian Moayed & Jeannie Berlin
THE TEAM – Nicole Holofcener (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 93 Minutes
Is there such a thing as “a good lie”? Say, a lie made to protect or support someone you love? Or is a lie always a lie? This moral quandary makes up the heart of Nicole Holofcener’s “You Hurt My Feelings,” a winningly witty look at not just the “little” white lies we tell our loved ones but why. Here, we follow one seemingly satisfied married couple – Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a New York novelist, and Don (Tobias Menzies), a therapist – whose relationship is suddenly on the rocks when Beth overhears Don admitting that he doesn’t actually like her writing. But although this minor interaction serves as the inciting incident in Holofcener’s expectedly shrewd script, over the course of the next 93 minutes, this marital drama forms the foundation of a more comprehensive discussion on the morality and meaning of the “tiny” misrepresentations of the truth we utter each and every day, in countless conversations, with endless explanations. And no matter what “side” you walk in supporting, Holofcener’s supremely layered screenplay makes it so that you’ll assess every argument before the day is done – and simultaneously be exposed to some of its all-star ensemble cast’s strongest performances yet.
It should come as no surprise that Louis-Dreyfus – one of the most gifted living comedians (on top of being one of the most award-winning actresses in American television history) – could play the part of a slightly neurotic woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown in her sleep. However, that description alone still undersells what she accomplishes here and what Holofcener is able to bring out of her. Holofcener already famously gave Louis-Dreyfus her first role as a lead actress in a full-length feature film in 2013’s “Enough Said” (which brought her her first Golden Globe nomination for a film role as well). Still, as Beth, there’s even more dramatic depth in this text for Louis-Dreyfus to mine – while remaining as hugely hysterical as ever – especially as she exemplifies the insecurities all women (and all artists) have and convincingly portrays the pain at having the husband she loves and trusts so much deceive her on his opinion of her life’s work. And this whole time, she manages never to let the tone become too bleak, backed by Holofcener’s steady storytelling and deft direction, which all adds up to a Herculean feat for the actress she delivers with emotional dexterity.
Tobias Menzies – perhaps best known by American audiences for playing the prickly Prince Philip on Netflix’s “The Crown” – is every bit her equal as Don, who’s initially as clueless as all men are when they’ve been careless with their partner’s emotions and don’t know where to begin to pick up the pieces of this mess and put their relationship back together again, but that’s not to say that Menzies doesn’t get to flex his comedic chops either, or that Don isn’t given the space to share his side of the story and provide some context for his choices, complicating the central argument somewhat by making the matter far less “black-and-white.” However, he’s also far from the only other member in the ensemble to match Louis-Dreyfus’ courageous (and comedic) commitment, with Michaela Watkins quickly becoming the MVP of the supporting cast as Beth’s sardonic sister Sarah (always knowing what to say, and how to assure that her barbs land with a bitter blow). At the same time, Jeannie Berlin proves profusely amusing in a single scene bouncing off of Louis-Dreyfus and Watkins as Beth and Sarah’s mom, “Succession’s” Arian Moayed makes an impression as Sarah’s perpetually heartbroken aspiring actor husband. Rising star Owen Teague adds another impressive performance to his resume as Beth and Don’s sidesplitting stoner son.
Throughout it all, cinematographer Jeffrey Waldron completely captures the intimidating yet inviting aura of New York City and suffuses the film with its style, soul, and spirit and that classical cinema feeling. There’s just such an effortless energy exuding from it at all times that it’s near impossible not to be wrapped up in its little wonders and sucked into this troupe’s daily trials and tribulations. Some may knock “You Hurt My Feelings” for being “slight,” but Holofcener is too strong a screenwriter to let a “small” premise set her back, instead using it to her advantage, increasing the significance and scope of this issue – the little white lies we tell our loved ones – until it becomes all-encompassing and we see how much of our existence is enveloped in its web. It’s tender, terrifically funny, and endlessly thought-provoking, and it sends you out on a heartfelt high with new knowledge to apply to your own life, so you learn from Beth and Don’s miscommunications instead of repeating their mistakes yourself. Many movies would be lucky to just accomplish one of these goals – being entertaining or educational – but Nicole Holofcener just happens to be an overachiever.