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Thread: YOU HURT MY FEELINGS (Nicole Holofcener 2023)

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    YOU HURT MY FEELINGS (Nicole Holofcener 2023)

    YOU HURT MY FEELINGS (Nicole Holofcener 2023)



    Nicole Holofcener's new movie is intelligent, witty, and perceptive. If perhaps it never leaves as deep an impression as it might, that's probably because, maintaining its flow of dry observation and laughs, it chooses to unfold as a series of strung-together skits that never cling together into a compelling story line. None of the "hurts" hurt quite deeply enough. It's watchable and entertaining if you like this sort of thing and I do. But earlier Holofcener joints gave me more of a jolt.

    It revolves around a couple, their 23-year-old son, and a sister. The skits still bite. There are two main subjects, pretty central ones; ego and intimacy. People question their jobs, their attractiveness, and their relationships.

    The couple, Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Don (Tobias Menzies), live in New York. Don is a therapist and Beth is a writer. Their son Eliot (Owen Teague) is 23, wrking in a pot store and writing a play. One of the only moments that involves sometehing other than the character's relationships and their self images is the comical holdup in the pot store that takes place when Beth is there - to buy pot. There are also a series brief spotlights on Don's therapy sessions. But are these about the patients, or just to show the shakiness of Don's confidence as a therapist? Likewise the writing classes Beth is shown teaching: they are expendable background, certainly more interesting than showing her at a laptop writing, but not memorable in themselves.

    Beth has a sister, Sarah (Michela Watkins), a sort of decorator, married to Mark (Arian Moayed), a sort of actor. Beth and Sarah sometimes see their aging but authoritative (though slightly confused) mother Georgia (a spot-on Jeannie Berlin). There is a goodly number of other characters, which is good: though Beth and Don's worlds seem to be shrinking, the film's world doesn't feel too claustrophobic. But most of these other characters, however momentarily colorful, are interchangeable, even expendable.

    Feelings strikes a balance between Beth and Don, but it naturally tips toward the woman's point of view. This is a woman's picture in that sense, but the boys get a chance to complain: Don, Mark, and Eliot all have crises. Don starts to worry that he may not be a good therapist. Mark gets fired from a play and questions whether he can act. Eliot's girlfriend sleeps with someone else and dumps him and he feels like a loser. The actor, Owen Teague, is actually tall and handsome and he delivers his self-questioning lines with great assurance. A beauty of this film - I almost said play - is the clarity of diction, the neatness with which each point is delivered by each line of dialogue and each key gesture. We may wish that there was a little more mess and confusion, to let the action breathe and seem a little messier - more like life.

    Men count here, but the protagonist - a role she handles with understated mastery - is Louis-Dreyfus, as the (semi-autobiographical?) writer. She has published a memoir, which did alright: but her mother, Georgia, keeps saying it should have sold better, which she blames on Beth's agent. Beth is finishing a novel. In a key early scene, Beth and Sarah are shopping and they come upon Don and see him tell someone he has never liked the new novel. She is already having trouble with her agent, who doesn't seem supportive anymore; she winds up hiring a fresh new one. Now this.

    Don has said he loves the novel in reading dozens of drafts. He has lied every time. Wasn't he obviously a little too supportive? There may be a lack of nuance here.

    Has the trust between Don and Beth been destroyed forever? Maybe not. This film is too skeptical and smart to have a "message" but if it had one it would be that to love over time you have to lie. Do you also have to lie to yourself? Should Don lie and tell himself No, I"m actually quite a good therapist?" The world is in a desperate mess, but these questions are the easy ones that we're lucky to be facing.

    Self doubt triumphs here, also doubt of others. But the characters, through the actors playing them, triumph over it because of the decisive manner in which they express it. Mark is never a better actor than when he acts out how he hates theater and has no place in it. Don, that is the actor Tobias Menzies, an English actor who played Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in "The Crown," has a resonant voice that here, held in check, still sounds authoritative even when he's saying he's no good at his profession. Owen Teague has a verve, energy, and rangy physicality he manipulates well even when he's squirming with the discomfort of getting dumped by his girlfriend.

    The "relationship" issues, especially the fundamental one about lying to be kind to your loved ones and taking leaps of faith about yourself, are thought-provoking enough. But this doesn't quite add up to an engaging drama or even a very fun movie. I have to side with Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, who says Holofcener goes too easy on her "troupe of fools" this time, and "'You Hurt My Feelings' doesn't hurt enough feelings." He's right: Holofcener has gone soft, lost too much of her edge. The observation is there, but the acid needed to flavor it is lacking. And the fundamental crisis, Don's not liking Beth's writing effort as claimed, is a tempest in a teapot. They love each other - so much so Eliot finds it stifling. Another pseudo-problem.

    You Hurt My Feelings, 93 mins. debuted at Sundance Jan. 22, 2023. Screened for this review at Landmark Albany Twin May 26, 2023. Metacritic rating: 82%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-27-2023 at 01:10 PM.


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