Earlier this week, Prime Video unveiled the first trailer for Nicole Holofcener’s You Hurt My Feelings, which is the Closing Night film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival London. Holofcener has a rich past of digging into more mature relationships, which are just as messy as your first love, in her filmography.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Beth, a writer working on a new novel, which will follow her lauded memoir in which she dug into her childhood and the verbal abuse she suffered. One character wonders how anyone could ever recover from being called stupid. Her husband, Don, is a psychiatrist who begins to suspect his patients don’t really like him.
When Beth accidentally overheard Don tell a friend he doesn’t like Beth’s new book, despite claiming he loves it, their marriage slowly, surely begins to fall apart. What else could Don be lying about? Can Beth ever trust Don again? And, more importantly, what is Beth lying about?
It sounds pretty grim when written out, but I assure you, You Hurt My Feelings is a comedy and a very funny one, too. Holofcener has a remarkable ability to find humour and virtue in everyday life and turn the ordinary into something extraordinary.
At the very heart of You Hurt My Feelings is the painful realisation that we all lie, all day, every day. Small, seemingly insignificant little lies slip out of our mouths, almost by accident. Like Holofcener poignantly proves, there’s a kindness to a white lie; Don simply didn’t have the heart to tell Beth he didn’t like her new book, he wanted to spare his wife’s feelings. This isn’t to say what Don did is somehow alright or excusable, but Holofcener recognises that we all do it.
You Hurt My Feelings is filled with the quick-witted, snappy dialogue that Holofcener has become known for. She has an excellent ability to boil scenes and conversations down to their bones, extracting the very essence of every conflict while also complicating our feelings about it.
When we observe and listen to Don speak about Beth’s new book, the honesty truly feels shocking here. We all know there’s a bit of Don in us; who would have the heart to tell their spouse their writing is dogshit when they already feel bad about it? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone and so on.
There might be small mercies in lies, but there is also liberation in honesty. It’s almost as if an invisible burden has been lifted off of Don’s shoulders after Beth admits he overheard him. Similarly, Beth later finds solace in being able to express her emotions truthfully. It feels strangely groundbreaking here and while You Hurt My Feelings has very little plot to it, it flows very well and never outstays its welcome.
You Hurt My Feelings crucially never picks a side and never paints anyone as a villain. Beth has every right to be upset about Don’s perceived betrayal, but she is also blowing it out of proportion. In the end, it’s not so much Don’s words that hurt her, it’s the nagging idea that he might be right that eats her up inside. Don is also trying to come to terms with his own failures as a psychiatrist after a couple request a refund of years of therapy, but no progression. Holofcener taps into such relatable fears and anxieties, but treats them with empathy and pokes fun at them, making them much more digestible.
You Hurt My Feelings mostly exists to make you laugh, but there’s truth to its narrative and characters. We all see ourselves in both Don and Beth; coming to terms with the little failures in life is painful, but it makes for great cinema.
You Hurt My Feelings is the Closing Night film at Sundance Film Festival London and will stream on Prime Video 8 August.