There's some real confidence underlining the marital ups and downs dominating the plot of You Hurt My Feelings. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener, much like she did with her 2013 feature Enough Said, is enough of a champion of small-scale situations and incidental forms of conflict that she never feels the need to blow up this world into contrived melodrama. There's a low-key quality to You Hurt My Feelings that doesn't dilute the intensity of the feelings these characters carry around with them. It's such a thoughtful way to convey how much social anxiety and awkwardness are peppered into everyone's ordinary existence. The world can be crashing down around you and you're also just munching away on a gigantic cookie in a furniture store.
That balance of engaging characters and a laidback atmosphere is applied to the story of Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a novelist whose working on her first fictional book. Beth has been married to therapist Don (Tobias Menzies) for years and the pair have a rock-solid relationship, even as they both grapple with all kinds of existential woes. However, their relationship gets tossed for a loop when Beth overhears Don revealing to a friend that he's actually not a fan of her newest book. Realizing her partner lied to her, Beth is overwhelmed and doesn't know what to do next. At the same time, everyone around her is navigating deeply complicated personal issues, like Beth's son Elliott (Owen Teague) grappling with relationship woes or her sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), fighting off fatigue with her job.
One of the best aspects of Holofcener's screenplay is how it slowly gets you obsessed with the double-meaning behind everyone's offhand comments or judgments. We're so enamored in the gravity of Beth realizing her husband didn't like her new book that suddenly, the audience has become hammers seeing everything as nails. Each line from characters like Sarah, Don, and even Beth herself (in conversations with her son Elliot namely) seems to suddenly have endless room for interpretation even if they only say a few words. I found myself succumbing to this paranoia more than once throughout You Hurt My Feelings. That's a great reflection of the feature's effectiveness at both getting us into the headspace of Beth and playing on a person's innate insecurities. I'm already paranoid about how people view me and now Holofcener is exacerbating that quality!
This is one of the most remarkable elements of the You Hurt My Feelings script, which is handled deftly by a terrific roster of actors. Julia Louis-Dreyfus reunites with Holofcener after their collaboration on the 2013 gem Enough Said and she continues to be a perfect leading lady for this style of laidback comedy. Louis-Dreyfus has always known her way around comic line deliveries, but she's also great at playing messy characters whose flaws are relatable rather than alienating. We see ourselves in Beth's shortcomings and vulnerabilities largely because Louis-Dreyfus plays her as such a nuanced human being. Meanwhile, Michaela Watkins gets some of the funniest lines of the entire feature (particularly her comments about carrying Tums in her purse) while actors like Zach Cherry deliver memorably amusing work as some of Don's patients.
In the summer of 2023, it may seem like there's no space on the big screen for a movie as stripped-down and low-key as You Hurt My Feelings. I couldn't disagree more with that sentiment. Getting to watch such a charming movie in the confines of the big screen, where nothing could distract my attention, was a delightful experience. Ditto getting to laugh out loud at various examples of relatable human awkwardness with total strangers. You Hurt My Feelings is well worth watching under any circumstances. However, it's especially a treat to go to a theater, watch it with other moviegoers, and realize how many of us can relate to imperfect dynamics with the people we love the most. Plus, the wit of Julia Louis-Dreyfus is always deserving of the biggest screen possible.