Writer/director Nicole Holofcener seems to have filled the void left in 2012 when Nora Ephron, the unofficial queen of adult sophisticated comedy, passed away. It’s clear, whether consciously or unconsciously, that Ephron serves as Holofcener’s spiritual muse in her writing, as the parallels in their storytelling and style are undeniable. Most of Holofcener’s films, which include Friends with Money (2006), Enough Said (2013) and Please Give (2010), center on upper middle-class, sophisticated white people, and live wholly in the same universe as Ephron’s greatest hits, such as Sleepless in Seattle (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998) and When Harry Met Sally… (1989). But perhaps no film in Holofcener’s catalog feels more reminiscent of Ephron than her latest, You Hurt My Feelings, premiering at Sundance Film Festival.
You Hurt My Feelings stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Beth, a novelist in New York City who is struggling to finish her latest book, while her therapist husband Don, played by Tobias Menzies, is faced with clients who have lost faith in his advice. Despite their simultaneous professional insecurities, Beth and Don have a strong marriage, based on mutual support and love. But when Beth overhears Don confiding to her brother-in-law Mark (Arian Moayed) that he actually thinks Beth’s new book is terrible, Beth’s entire world is shattered, as she questions their relationship and starts to look at everything in a whole new way. Is their entire relationship a lie? Is her whole career a lie?
Yes, it does seem a bit overwrought, but the unique skill Holofcener has is she is able to craft characters and dialogue that feel all at once satirical yet sincere. In these days of unabashed emphasis on telling diverse stories that have heretofore been ignored by popular culture, it feels both a little refreshing and unnerving to have a film that’s such a callback to the days of Sex and the City, Friends, Seinfeld and, well, Nora Ephron movies, that are about well-off white people complaining about trivial things. The title itself feels tongue-in-cheek, as, in these times when the world is dealing with cataclysmic and existential problems, something as simple as feelings getting hurt can drive one to question everything.
And yet, there is a genuine sincerity at play here too, as Holofcener treats her characters with respect and love, never mocking them, never judging them. It is this lack of judgement which allows the audience to buy into the authenticity of these characters’ feelings, no matter how trivial we may think their problems may be. And that’s where the best part of You Hurt My Feelings lies, in the fact that, even though we all do live in a world that is literally decaying around us and there are so many bigger things to worry about, sometimes we do tend to wallow in our own relatively small problems, and sometimes it’s ok to be selfish, especially with what we ask from those we love. It’s ok to admit that our sense of self is often determined by the opinions of those around us, and our resilience is only as strong as the net we trust to catch us when we fall.
Holofcener makes it ok for us to care about the lives and first-world-problems of these characters because they are drawn and performed with such wit, charm and self-perceived vulnerability, so reminiscent of the kinds of characters Ephron wrote. Louis-Dreyfus is perfect in a character that feels written for her, as she is able to balance all the narcissism and growing cynicism with her deep-seated and inherent humanity. Menzies is as good as he’s ever been, cast against type as a warm, insecure and ordinary guy who is as good when he’s baffled as he is when he’s confident.
But what really makes You Hurt My Feelings a crisp, light pleasure is the crackling ensemble cast, every single member contributing to the overall vibe of the film. From the supporting performances of Michaela Watkins and Moayed to the scene-stealing turns from David Cross, Zach Cherry and Jeannie Berlin to the winning cameos from Sarah Steele, Amber Tamblyn and Sunita Mani, everywhere you look is character actor gold, all put together in a picture-perfect New York City that’s so endearing, even armed robbery is charming.
Unfortunately, You Hurt My Feelings is nowhere near as funny as the best Ephron films were, but there are enough moments to sustain a genuine smile throughout, which is sometimes even better than an occasional belly laugh.
You Hurt My Feelings walks the fine line between trying to be funny, real, moving and sincere, and succeeds at all of it some of the time, which may not be quite up to Nora Ephron standards, but more than succeeds at giving us something we didn’t even realize we needed, or missed.
You Hurt My Feelings is screening in the Premieres section of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The film will be released in theaters by A24.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute