You Hurt My Feelings

Beth is a middle-aged writer with one published book to her credit.  She also teaches an advanced college-level writing course.  Her husband Don is a longtime New York therapist, and the two have a twentysomething son Elliott, who aspires to become a writer, but currently works at a marijuana dispensary.  Beth’s sister Sarah is an interior decorator, whose husband Mark is an actor – with mostly live stage productions to his resume, but who has had minor roles in a couple movies.

Not a true comedy

This is the core cast of characters for Nicole Holofcener’s new film “You Hurt My Feelings,” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Beth and British actor Tobias Menzies (sporting an extremely convincing American accent) as Don.  Given the Louis-Dreyfus pedigree, one would logically assume “You Hurt My Feelings” is a flat-out comedy.  And while it does feature a couple good lines and a few humorous clients of Don’s, it’s more a pleasing drama – the kind that goes down easily, like Ray Romano’s recent “Somewhere in Queens.”

Pivotal scene

The terrible title (Couldn’t they have come up with something catchier than “You Hurt My Feelings”?) derives from the pivotal scene, in which Beth and Sarah overhear Don explain to Mark that he has read Beth’s new rough draft, and dislikes it – after having told Beth all along that he loves it.  Don claims he’s simply being an encouraging husband.  But Beth’s world is devastated.  Not so much because of her husband’s aversion to her latest work (although that does hurt), but because he has shattered the trust which has been so key to the success of their marriage.  In fact, Elliott often complains that they eat after one another.  He can’t stand the fact that they share an ice cream cone; he believes they should each eat their own.  But his parents have such a long-lasting and fruitful marriage they don’t see any issue with sharing food.  They figure if one of us is sick, the other soon will be.

Atypical movie marriage

Theirs is the type of marriage we don’t often see in the movies because there’s nothing “wrong” with it.  Stories derive from the families who bicker – not from those who are happy.  Think “All in the Family” or “The Honeymooners.”  Heck, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was the anomaly in television lore, because the Petries actually liked each other!

So, the fact that Don has been lying to Beth (albeit in the name of lending his support to her career) throws a proverbial monkey wrench into their ideal union.  However, no sooner does Beth learn about her husband’s white lies than she finds herself encouraging Elliott about the situation with his ex-girlfriend in the same manner.  She lends her support even though she knows the girlfriend is not likely to reconcile with Elliott.

Key performance

Louis-Dreyfus is spot-on, and her sunny personality lends itself well to Holofcener’s original screenplay; but the best performance is that of Menzies, who has never had such a major role before.  His character is also the most critical, as the entire production feels like a therapy session.  We learn about the day-to-day relationships of those with good marriages – which is, admittedly, something we don’t often see in the movies.  That makes “You Hurt My Feelings” refreshing, if not particularly insightful.  Again, some of Don’s clients are humorous (a la those of Dr. Hartley’s on the old “Bob Newhart Show”), and Elliott’s co-workers at the head shop are a scream.  The material is lighter than in most of today’s films, but this is not a comedy in the purest sense.

Feels like a Neil Simon comedy

You Hurt My Feelings” plays out like one of those old Neil Simon comedies, in that the story revolves around New Yorkers in the performing arts and writing/publishing fields, but without the zingy one-liners.  One the one hand, I feel like “You Hurt My Feelings” could use some of those zingy one-liners.  On the other hand, it’s more realistic without them.  And realism is the key here.  This film feels like real life.  And it concerns those little white lies that we all tell.  It’s a good, solid effort from all involved.  Will it make my Top Ten list at the end of the year?  Probably not, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.  If you see it without expecting a laugh-a-minute comedy, you’ll treat yourself to what promises to be one of the best adult pictures of this summer.






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