This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
You Hurt My Feelings is sure to cause some awkward foot shuffling and hand wringing for couples watching; it might even bring about some rocky conversational terrain in its immediate aftermath. In the latest from director and writer Nicole Holofcener, she posits the age-old question of whether it's better to be honest with your partner, or tell a little lie to avoid hurting their feelings. You Hurt My Feelings feels like a gentle breeze of a film, and whilst it's not as impressive as two of Holofcener's most recent screenwriting credits—it's never as funny or emotionally devastating as Can You Ever Forgive Me? nor as complex as The Last Duel—the film zips by with alluring honesty and engaging performances.
The married couple in question comprises Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Beth and Tobias Menzies's Don; the former a novelist and teacher whilst the latter is a psychiatrist. Beth's second book is almost complete and Don loves it—or so he says. After overhearing him proclaim to Beth's brother-in-law that he thinks the book is actually terrible, Beth falls into a spiral of despair. How will she ever trust her husband again? The drama is never vast in its scope, but always important to its central characters, which plays true to our real lives and many of our often trivial problems.
As their decades-long marriage is tested, Holofcener agilely navigates this relationship, along with the couple's relationship with their son Eliot (Owen Teague), and Beth's sister's own marriage. Here we get into the nuts and bolts of it all, delving into the nitty gritty longitudes, latitudes and complexities of relationships. In You Hurt My Feelings, Holofcener never offers easy answers — how could she? — but always maintains human reliability with her characters' strengths and flaws. Backing up these central relationships and stories are enjoyable vignettes within Don's office at work: David Cross and Amber Tamblyn as a volatile, deeply unhappy married couple are a particular highlight.
Unfortunately, despite briskly moving along, You Hurt My Feelings goes by with little emotional weight and uneven comedy. Some moments are very funny, whilst others land flat. Jeannie Berlin as Beth's mother is a humorous delight, as is Dreyfus in her melodramatic reactions to often minor moments. The drama, meanwhile, is relatively engaging but never detailed enough to pack a punch, its observational style always kept at a clean, almost sterile distance. Though each character has a solid journey of self-discovery, on the whole they feel neatly rendered but tepid.
You Hurt My Feelings is a film that is both impossible to be offended by and equally difficult to be bowled over by. Dreyfus and Menzies' chemistry leaves something to be desired, but the former is outstanding as always, whilst the latter plays the bumbling psychiatrist role perfectly. The irony isn't lost on us that Don's own personal problems are in as much need of discussion and confrontation as his own patients' issues. Ultimately, You Hurt My Feelings asks the right questions—the ripe paranoid thoughts people might have about their own artistic work and the fine line between honesty and support—but falters in its somewhat middling execution.
You Hurt My Feelings releases on 8th August on Prime Video.