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You Hurt My Feelings
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Nicole Holofcener
prd Anthony Bregman, Stefanie Azpiazu, Nicole Holofcener, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Owen Teague, Jeannie Berlin, Amber Tamblyn, David Cross, Zach Cherry, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sarah Steele, Josh Pais
release US 26.May.23,
23/US A24 1h33
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
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Brutal honesty is the topic of this earthy, sharply observant comedy-drama reuniting Julia Louis-Dreyfus with writer-director Nicole Holofcener, whose understated and unflinching approach is always engaging. Even as we squirm seeing ourselves in various awkward interactions, the level of detail in the writing and performances is remarkable. These are very funny situations that are never deliberately played for laughs: the humour emerges through characters who speak the truth.
Author of a well-respected memoir, Beth (Louis-Dreyfus) has a happy life with her therapist husband Don (Menzies) and their 23-year-old son Eliot (Teague), an aspiring playwright who works in a pot store. But as she mentors young writers, Beth is having doubts about her writing first novel. This is confirmed when her editor (Jackson) has a tepid reaction to the manuscript. But Beth is even more badly rattled when she overhears Don telling her brother-in-law Mark (Moayed) that he hates this new book. And now she begins to question everything about herself and her marriage.
One of Beth's most disturbing discoveries is that she badly needs Don's approval. He had told her it was a great novel but, now that she knows his true feelings, she feels unable to look him in the eye. Trying to support her, Beth's younger sister Sarah (Watkins) confesses that she sometimes lies about Mark's performances as an actor. Further thematic perspectives come in amusing scenes between Don and his patients. And the film is skilfully peppered with tiny throwaway moments that add to the larger discussion.
Each of these people is fighting dark thoughts that they are afraid to admit. With her impeccable timing, Louis-Dreyfus brings Beth vividly to life in each interaction, so we can easily identify with her feelings and her flaws. Menzies is particularly strong in a layered role as her husband, while Watkins adeptly adds a blast of witty energy as her sister. Teague and Moayed get some strong scenes too, as does the fabulous Berlin as Beth and Sarah's matter-of-fact mother.
The questions swirling through this film get deep under the skin. Is it better to be honest even if it's hurtful? Is it helpful to always expect the best of someone, or can encouragement set a person up to fail? The film knowingly wrestles with how it feels impossible to find the balance between being supportive and constructive. Where Holofcener takes this is both entertaining and insightful, reminding us that it's important to be nice, but perhaps not too nice.
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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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