‘You Hurt My Feelings’ Sundance Film Festival Review: Julia Louis-Dreyfus Stars Again in Nicole Holofcener’s Witty and Honest Comedy

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It’s always a celebration when we get a new Nicole Holofcener movie, and that’s especially true for her latest movie starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. You hurt my feelings which premiered Sunday night at Sundance, the pair’s second collaboration, featuring 2013’s Enough said starring the late James Gandolfini first. In that movie, and other Holofcener writing/directing efforts like Friends with money, beautiful and wonderful, and maybe my favourite, Please provide (not to mention the great Can you ever forgive me? which she co-wrote), they always focus on the quirky nature of our relationships with others in our lives. Holofcener has simply always had a gift for getting to the heart of the matter, often with a witty, wise and truthful touch.

This movie is one of her best, themes of trust, honesty, truth and lies are the focus. Louis-Dreyfus plays the happily married Beth, author of a memoir and about to finish her first novel. She and her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) volunteer to help homeless people and teach a small creative writing class. She seems to have a great relationship with her husband Don (Tobias Menzies of The crown and Game of Thrones), a therapist who also becomes a bit more vain in middle age and wonders if he should have plastic surgery around his eyes (“I used to be so horny,” he complains). It’s the parents of 23-year-old Eliot (Owen Teague) who are so close and trusting that he can’t believe they still share each other’s food, even ice cream cones. So what could go wrong?

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On to Holofcener’s main premise which takes center stage when Beth hears Don’s conversation with her brother-in-law, an actor named Mark (Arian Moayed), about his frustration at having to read and comment on one version of her novel, even though he says he likes it not really funny. This devastates her, but she keeps it to herself until it is clear that it has cooled their relationship. Holocener is interested in our honesty with our loved ones, the “little lies” we tell (especially now in the age of the “big lie”) that may be necessary to show support and encouragement, but may not reveal the full truth. Does it matter in otherwise healthy relationships? Holofcener finds lots of ways to explore it, not just with Beth and Don, but just about every other major character who floats in and out of this very human and character-driven comedy.

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Fairness also features in their professions as Beth tries to encourage her students, not always when warranted. Don is also faced with telling the truth with a warring couple (Amber Tamblyn and David Cross, very funny) who have come to him for therapy with no visible results, eventually leading to them demanding a refund. There’s also Beth and Sarah’s needy mother, Georgia, played with comedic perfection by Jeannie Berlin in a role that could have been played by her mother, Elaine May. Like mother, like daughter and both clearly brilliant. Teague is also well cast as their son who works at a Cannibas shop, but also tries to become a writer with encouragement from his parents, but perhaps not always with complete honesty. Watkins and Moayed provide excellent support.

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The crux of it all is how damaging can our own feelings and opinions be before we hurt those of the people closest to us? It’s all presented in an understated but funny way by a filmmaker whose observations of human foibles and behavior hit the mark every time. There’s a lot to relate to this a24 release here that should play really well on the dedicated circuit. Louis-Dreyfus is a gift for comedy, as she has proven once again twice this week not only here but also in Kenya Barris’ sublime Netflix comedy, You people. Menzies was not an obvious choice, but it turned out to be ideal casting. Together they create a marriage that’s fair enough where it really matters, and frankly in a Sundance Festival that’s packed with movies where a lot of a lot dark visions of our relationships with each other, You hurt my feelings gives me hope.

Producers are Stefanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman, Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus.

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