If you love New York-based Indie movies about relationships and dating, like the kind Jennifer Westfeldt makes, ‘You Hurt My Feelings’ wants to be the movie for you!
Unfortunately, un-like Jennifer Westfeldt movies, You Hurt My Feelings fails to bring the fun and charm of New York, relationship comedies, or even the creative freedom of low budget, indie movies. ‘Enough Said’ and ‘Friends With Money’ Writer/Director’s Nicole Holofcener fails to reclaim the charm and fun of her earlier films, and wastes an outing from the brilliant Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The Plot — You Hurt My Feelings
Don’s a bit tired of it all.
Don, played by ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Rome’s Tobias Menzies, counsels people at his New York practice; and he’s more than a little burned out. The bickering married couples, the patient who mumbles things under his breath; he doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference in the world.
In addition, Don spends his Anniversary with wife Beth, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with an almost perfunctory exchange of predictable gifts. Each can sense what they are about to receive, but still feign surprise and joy during the reveal. Their adult son, Eliot, calls; but doesn’t bother showing up for his parents — he’s too busy NOT writing his big play, err screenplay, err novel.
Beth’s sister, Sarah, played by Michaela Watkins, gets little satisfaction from decorating rich people’s homes, but she does support her husband’s unenthusiastic acting career. Mark, played by Arian Moayed, has success in his field, but happiness seems elusive, even as he poses for pictures with fans on the street.
Rounding out our four lead characters is Beth — successful author, working on a followup to her successful book, the first novel in her career. Everyone in her life seems supportive with the progress she’s making, but… Something is still missing.
The Good — You Hurt My Feelings
David Cross and Amber Tamblyn
What clearly was Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Nicole Holofcener calling in a favor with some friends; David Cross and Amber Tamblyn shine in what was probably a one-day-shoot as the un-happily married couple of Carolyn and Jonathan. They open the film, arguing back and forth in a therapy session with Don, and pop in and out several more times.
The pair aggressively point out each others flaws in what might be the one honest relationship in this film. The back and forth could easily have ventured into eye-rolling territory, but Cross and Tamblyn clearly have fun finding new and ever inventive ways to insult each other.
Not sure whether they are improving their lines in these scenes, but the energy from these scenes, gives hope for the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the David Cross/Amber Tamblyn shot of adrenaline isn’t quite enough to jolt the rest of the film into being memorable.
The Bad — You Hurt My Feelings
The Sameness Of ALL The Relationships
One of my favorite things about Indie movies is the freedom filmmakers have to explore stories in risky or non-traditional ways; and/or to really say something they couldn’t in a big budget Hollywood Romantic Comedy. Unfortuantely, Director Nicole Holofcener gives us an endless supply of sameness and nice, without having much to say about the human condition.
We get four main characters who all have interesting careers in interesting businesses. All have something to lose, something to hide, and enough motivation to make things ‘interesting’ or at least dynamic.
Instead, we get people who are too busy being supportive and ‘nice’ to be honest in each and EVERY relationship combination in the film. This is the kind of film that has potential and a great setup, but you just keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the film to get good! Unfortunately, I’m STILL waiting.
As a result, the drama never quite happens, and the comedy is little more than a polite chuckle. When one thinks about the great relationship Comedy Elaine had with Puddy on Seinfeld, and you look at the endless supply of ‘nice’ and ‘blah’ on display here; you can see just how disappointed I was waiting for this Julia Louis-Dreyfus led film to get good.
Too Many Characters
The Pacing and Editing for ‘Feeling’ keep up a decent pace, and don’t linger too long on any one scene; but the opposite problem comes up — too many characters and scenes packed into an hour and a half, with not enough time to focus on any two or three plotlines.
Instead, we get tied up in subplot after subplot, which gets cut together to support a central plotline that never quite has enough time to get weird, or funny, or offensive, or anything more than ‘meh’.
The subplot with Don and Beth’s son Eliot feels forced, and the subplot with Beth and Sarah’s Mom, Georgia are completely unnecessary. Both of these extra generational characters could have been easily cut out of the film, and the drama/comedy from their scenes split up as arguing points between sisters and married couples.
Don and Beth’s concerns over Eliot could easily have been dealt with between the two of them, and Beth and Sarah’s scenes talking about their Mom could have been expanded without ever even seeing Georgia. The mere presence of Eliot and Georgia’s characters could have been felt without ever seeing them on camera. Instead, each of our four main characters could simply take up the opposing sides of an argument, and debate the plot points amongst themselves.
Instead, we get characters being nice to each other instead of seeing what they are really feeling and thinking. This may be closer to a normal relationship, but it’s not very interesting.
On top of that, all of the four main characters think and sound similar to each other, with the dynamics between them being all the same. None of our four leads have unique voices, with unique motivations. None of the interactions are clear or different. And, even the character’s motivations rarely move past simply trying to be ‘supportive’.
Maybe this is just a reflection of our Don, Beth, Sarah, and Mark being characters in their 50’s, and not those in their 20s, 30s, or 40s. And, maybe this is a reflection of the characters being professionally successful and spending all their time working.
But, this film has such a low energy feel to it, even the fast pace of the editing, and the short duration of the scenes can’t bring up the energy. This isn’t to say that all the characters need to be running around like chickens with their head cut off. But, to have Don always so fatigued by his indifference; and Beth so distracted by her lack of confidence in her new book; the energy of the film as a whole suffers.
Add in Sarah’s paralysis by analysis of her indecisive customers, and Mark’s directionless future post-acting career. Combined together, all four main characters’ state of being ‘stuck’ drains the energy out of the film.
Regardless, it would’ve helped the film to have at least one higher energy character driving the energy of the film forward.
The Review — You Hurt My Feelings
Compare You Hurt My Feelings to one of Sundance Film Festival’s other Comedy/Dramas, and you can quickly see where the quality of the film’s storytelling diverge.
Alice Englert’s ‘Bad Behaviour’ features adult family members talking about their feelings from beginning to end, but that film has clearly defined characters, knowing exactly what they are saying, and having different perspectives from which they view each other.
Nicole Holofcener’s ‘You Hurt My Feelings’ features four very similar main characters; all speaking in similar ways, seeing the world in similar ways, and wanting the same thing. This film’s characters are poorly defined, and terribly boring.
In a chapter straight out of the ‘its not what you say, it’s how well you say it’, Feelings fails beginning to end. With all four main characters worried more about being supportive than speaking their truth; meaningful conversations don’t materialize often enough.
Instead of impassioned conversations between Beth and Don about the futures of their careers; we get Don afraid to tell his own wife he doesn’t like her manuscript, and Beth afraid to tell Don she doesn’t like the earrings he gave her. Far from Earth shattering stakes, but the fact we don’t even get those conversations until later in the film shows just how low energy and poor communicated this film is.
David Cross and Amber Tamblyn provide some fireworks in their brief scenes scattered throughout the film, but that energy dissipates quickly as our character have a hard time even deciding to talk to each other.
Far from the worst film at Sundance 2023, but clearly a wasted opportunity. Not worth your time to watch a film where the characters don’t even bother telling each other what they’re thinking until the third act.