by Philip Price
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies & Michaela Watkins
Runtime: 1 hour & 33 minutes
In the last few years, as I continue to get older, I’ve come to feel or maybe realize how silly this whole system we’ve constructed to provide ourselves with structure and organization can be. This is especially true when it comes to creative endeavors as there are seemingly too many people in the world and too many serious things to deal with for a single person to spend so much time on something so vain and ultimately, probably, something so superfluous in the scheme of things. It would seem writer/director Nicole Holofcener shares this mild existential crisis in her latest film as represented largely by Michaela Watkins’ character who can’t help but feel her interior designer gig is less and less essential by the day. Are we all just spinning our wheels in order to stay busy and avoid the big questions? Of course, but while Holofcener acknowledges the severity of her character’s somewhat snobbish self-involvement by having them talk flippantly about real-world problems, it is the exacting nature of her dialogue and fully drawn performances from her actors that really hammers the pragmatic feelings home.
As “You Hurt My Feelings” is both a film about communication as well as largely narcissistic New York City intellectuals there is a constant overriding question of purpose, of relevancy, and of an idealism that can never really be reached thanks in (most) part to the fact intellectuals and more specifically creative intellectuals typically have such large insecurities and such strong cases of imposter syndrome that even when they accomplish a goal there is never true satisfaction and they will always strive for more because there is always someone else doing the same thing who is more successful. In essence, a perfect sect of people to show how damaging and affecting even the smallest crack in confidence can be.
Holofcener’s central conceit for her latest is a great example of being extremely specific while speaking to universal themes and situations but is also naturally a gateway to other conversations she’s interested in or became of note during her writing process. Sticking with her main idea, most of these strands have to do with how we talk to one another, the different dynamics of different relationships, and how - despite feeling intrinsically linked - a person is not solely defined by the things they create. Whether this is in reference to Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Don’s (Tobias Menzies) son whom they have seemingly done more damage to than they realized (the son and his conflict with his parents being the weak link in the film for me personally) or the new book Beth is writing that she learns her husband, Don, hasn’t been completely honest with her about in regard to his opinion of it. Beth’s relationship with her sister and mother (Jeannie Berlin), Don’s relationship with his Brother-in-Law (Arian Moayed), his patients (Don’s a terrible therapist), and even his own vanity are all on the table as is most of the baggage that comes with them and Holofcener largely lands the plane on each successfully. The writer/director’s dialogue is so good and so very strong that when paired with such well-realized performances as it is here the mostly egotistical issues discussed in the film become as empathetic as they are entertaining.