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Dan Webster reviews "You Hurt My Feelings"

DAN WEBSTER:

We’re all accustomed to telling white lies at one time or another. While lying itself is not a particularly admirable habit, fudging on the truth is sometimes unavoidable—that is if you have, as many of us do, a sense of empathy. Why hurt a loved one’s feelings if you can avoid doing so?

But—and here’s the rub—sometimes that very tendency to protect the feelings of someone can backfire. The whole point of writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s movie You Hurt My Feelings is to portray how this can occur.

Beth (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a published writer. Though she’s written any number of magazine articles, her fame—such as it is—revolves around her autobiography, which was a minor hit. So minor, in fact, that none of the students in the writing class that she teaches has even heard of it.

Which gives us some insight as to why she is struggling so much with her second book, this one a novel, that her agent isn’t particularly keen on. Husband Don (played by Tobias Menzies) is, though, giving her notes and encouragement all through her writing process.

Don, though, is having his own struggles. A therapist—and did I say that Beth and Don live in Manhattan?—Don handles a full slate of clients, most of whom seem to be impervious to his help. Or maybe he’s just lost his touch. He does, after all, mistake one woman’s history with that of another—an embarrassing situation that he tries to defuse by simply plowing ahead.

And then there’s the couple, Jonathan and Carolyn (played by real-life marrieds David Cross and Amber Tamblyn), who are always at each other’s throats, yet who turn irate when Don suggests that they might be better off getting a divorce. Oh, and yeah, they want the $33,000 back that they’ve paid him for the past two years of what they consider wasted effort.

Rounding out the cast of characters are Beth’s sister Sarah (played by Michaela Watkins) and her husband Mark (played by Arian Moayed), both of whom also are mired in frustrating situations. Sarah is an interior decorator who just can’t seem to please her clients. She continually disappoints one in particular, a woman who dislikes one proposed light fixture after the next. Mark, for his part, is an actor—familiar to a few fans for a movie role he’d played some years before, but now struggling to get and then hold roles in the New York theater scene.

With all the emotional conflicts floating around, it’s no wonder that Don vents to Mark one day, admitting that he really doesn’t like Beth’s novel, that he’s been encouraging her and that he feels bad about the predicament, but he doesn’t know what else to do.

Any option he might consider choosing becomes moot when, in an attempt to surprise their husbands, Beth and Sarah sneak up on the men... only to hear Don’s confession. Quickly enough, the two scurry away, Beth feeling crushed and Sarah trying to comfort her in the offhanded, well-meaning but often thoughtless way that sisters sometimes do.

Don becomes aware that something is bothering Beth only when—and, yes, there is a fifth character involved here—they are approached by their twentysomething son Eliot (played by Owen Teague) who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. But like everyone else, they offer him help that is caught up in their desire to support and protect him—honesty getting lost in the process.

That seems to be the lesson of You Hurt My Feelings. It’s not as if the problems faced by these characters are earth-shaking. This is a story of clearly privileged people worrying about problems far less important than where they’re going to sleep or whether they’ll have enough to eat.

Yet the strength of writer-director Holofcener, who has amassed quite a TV resume along with such films as Enough Said and Friends With Money, is her ability to make even seemingly insignificant problems resonate to a larger audience. And her sterling cast, particularly Louis-Dreyfus, certainly helps.

After seeing You Hurt My Feelings, some of us are going to think twice before ever again offering any random, easy encouragement to those we love without thinking twice about the consequences.

At least... I think we will.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.

——

Movies 101 host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for Spokesman.com/7blog.

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