‘You Hurt My Feelings’ tells of insecure New Yorkers

Is this film's title a little too on-the-nose?

 ‘YOU HURT my feelings’ starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus opens on May 25.  (photo credit: LEV CINEMA/COURTESY)
‘YOU HURT my feelings’ starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus opens on May 25.
(photo credit: LEV CINEMA/COURTESY)

Nicole Holofcener – one of the most consistently enjoyable American indie directors – is back with a new feature film, You Hurt My Feelings, opening in Israel on May 25. 

Holofcener makes “dramedies” – comic but astute and involving stories of people’s lives. It’s always a pleasure to watch her relatable characters as they muddle through situations we can all identify with. She has made such films as Friends with Money, Please Give and Lovely & Amazing. In You Hurt My Feelings, she is reunited with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the lead actress from her 2013 film, Enough Said.

Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus are a cinematic match made in heaven and it’s a pleasure to see Louis-Dreyfus showing more of a dramatic and comic range than she was able to display in the television shows Veep or Seinfeld.

In You Hurt My Feelings she plays Beth, a Brooklyn writer. The movie tells the story of a couple who seem to have everything, as they weather personal and professional crises. 

Beth has been happily married for decades to Don (Tobias Menzies), a therapist who wonders if he is really helping his patients. In session after session, he sits at a loss and as his patients repeat themselves, he feels compelled to repeat himself as well, scenes that are letter perfect. 

 ‘YOU HURT my feelings’ starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus opens on May 25.  (credit: LEV CINEMA/COURTESY) ‘YOU HURT my feelings’ starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus opens on May 25. (credit: LEV CINEMA/COURTESY)

Expressions unexpected

In one of the first times we have seen an on-screen male express such feelings realistically, Don frets that he is starting to lose his looks.

Meanwhile, Beth is trying to finish her first novel. She has already published a memoir about having grown up with a father who verbally abused her, a topic the film dares to poke gentle fun at. While hoping the latest draft will impress her agent, she is aware that she is less marketable in the literary world with every passing year. 

Both of them are trying to encourage their 20-something son, an aspiring playwright who works in an upscale weed dispensary and lives with his girlfriend.

Much of the film plays out while they spend time with her sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), an interior decorator weary of trying to please her wealthy clients, and her husband, Mark (Arian Moayad). He is an intermittently successful actor, best known for playing opposite a giant pumpkin in a kids’ movie. 

The sisters spend a fair amount of time with their equally nurturing and belittling mother, Georgia (the wonderful Jeannie Berlin, who played the jilted bride in the original The Heartbreak Kid, which was directed by her mother, Elaine May). 

One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when Beth takes Georgia to a doctor in an upscale clinic. The doctor asks for an $800 fee for “concierge services,” and Georgia appears to play along. When they leave, however, she says she will never pay for the doctor’s “chi-chi furniture.” 

The plot gets going when Beth overhears Don telling Mark that he doesn’t like her novel, despite of praising more than a dozen drafts. This is a devastating blow, so much so that she can’t even tell him that she knows his real opinion of her new book, so she just stomps around being passive-aggressive. 

Both Beth and Don lack confidence in their professional abilities and even though they seem to be successful, they both feel like frauds. As all Seinfeld and Veep fans know, Louis-Dreyfus is gifted at playing characters who manage to simultaneously be borderline egomaniacs and terribly insecure. 

Menzies is probably best known for his portrayal of Prince Philip on recent seasons of The Crown, and you can see how his sweetness could soothe his patients into thinking he knows what he’s doing. Michaela Watkins makes a great foil for Louis-Dreyfus and the two have beautiful timing in their scenes together.

While it’s enjoyable to watch much of this play out, I kept waiting for a big comic or dramatic payoff that never came. The on-the-nose title is a hint about the lack of subtext in the film. 

Beth would like to wow her agent and wishes that Don loved the book that even she isn’t sure is all that good. He wishes he knew how to help his patients – like many therapists, he has a congenial personality and not much else to offer them – and wants to be young again. 

That’s the movie and you already know from this description if it is a story you might enjoy or just find annoying. I was so grateful to see characters that resemble living human beings I actually know, that I may have been lulled into enjoying this movie to the point where I was more willing than usual to forgive some weaknesses in the script. 

You Hurt My Feelings certainly has its moments, although, in the end, the moments don’t always add up.