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Nathan Weinbender reviews "You Hurt My Feelings"


There are movies about conversations, and then there are Nicole Holofcener movies, which are often about the conversations we should be having but aren’t. The tension in her films develops not from confrontation but from evasion, and she crafts dialogue that is less about big speeches than inflection, suggestion and the gulfs of silence in between what’s actually being said.

Holofcener’s latest, You Hurt My Feelings, is about a personal crisis that stems from a single overheard observation, and it’s a brittle, incisive comedy about the lies we tell the people closest to us—both to protect their feelings and to insulate ourselves from further conflict.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Beth, a New York writer whose debut memoir received solid reviews and respectable sales figures. She’s been working on her follow-up, a mystery novel, for several years, and though she’s nearly given up because of a stalling literary agent, her husband Don (played by Tobias Menzies) encourages her to keep going.

But Beth enters into a tailspin when she eavesdrops on Don and hears him say he actually can’t stand the book she’s working on. It completely shakes her up. "It’s not the fact that he doesn’t like the book," she says. "It’s that he lied about liking the book." Does that mean he hasn’t liked anything she’s written? Can she even be with someone who doesn’t think she’s talented?

The reverberations of Beth’s shaken confidence soon touch everyone in her small social circle, all of whom begin to reassess their own self-worth. Beth’s sister (played by Michaela Watkins) is an interior decorator who begins to see the folly of picking out thousand-dollar light fixtures for wealthy clients. Her brother-in-law, a struggling actor (Arian Moayed), has impostor syndrome after being cast in a new play. And Don, a therapist, even starts to wonder if he’s good at his job, and based on the few sessions we see, we’re wondering the same thing.

You Hurt My Feelings is the sort of low-key movie they made more frequently in the 1970s, scabrous comedies about upper-middle class artists and intellectuals and the shaky foundations upon which their social reputations were built. So many films fall back on explosive emotion that it’s refreshing to see one grappling with the petty grievances and minor inconveniences that consume us on a daily basis.

Although Holofcener never lets her screenplay wander aimlessly into the realm of shallow sitcoms—it’s easy to imagine a dozen different ways in which this plot could have gone wrong—it doesn’t have the nerve to commit to explicit satire, either. She perhaps has too much sympathy for her characters, and her touch is so delicate that it robs the movie of any bite it may have had. But the film is built upon such a hilariously relatable catch-22: that most of us claim to want honesty until we actually hear it. If you do see You Hurt My Feelings, see it with someone who’s close with you, because you’ll definitely want to talk about it afterward.

For Spokane Public Radio, I'm Nathan Weinbender.


Nathan Weinbender is one of the film critics heard on Spokane Public Radio’s Movies 101, Friday evenings at 6:30 PM here on KPBX.