Julia Louis-Dreyfus spins comedy gold in this yarn of New York neurotics
You Hurt My Feelings
Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins & Arian Moayed
Directed by Nicole Holofcener
In theaters Friday, May 26
Neurotic New Yorkers ride out self-doubts, snubs and disappointments in the latest film from Nicole Holofcener, a director weaned on the comedies of Woody Allen.
A native New Yorker herself, Holofcener grew up as the daughter of a set decorator for Allen’s Big Apple-centric films. She appeared as an extra in a couple and eventually became a production assistant and editor for others before going on to make her own, including the critically acclaimed Enough Said and Can You Ever Forgive Me?
It’s no surprise she’s so attuned—like Allen—to what makes a certain sector of New York, and New Yorkers, tick and tock.
You Hurt My Feelings stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Beth, a writer whose writing isn’t going so well. Her memoir was a modest success, but she can’t stir up much interest in her latest work, a novel. Her agent tells her it’s tough out there in today’s literary world, with so many “new voices” competing to be heard.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies star as married New York professionals.
That makes Beth feel like “an old voice,” she dejectedly tells her therapist husband, Don (Tobias Menzies, who played Prince Phillip on Netflix’s The Crown). He’s undergoing a bit of life crisis of his own, fretting about his sagging face and his lost youth, and he’s been getting a bit confused about which of his patients go with what problems. One bickering married duo he’s counseling (the real-life couple of David Cross and Amber Tamblyn) tells him he’s been wasting their time and their money, and they demand a refund. Maybe he’s not the therapist he thought he was.
David Cross and Amber Tamblyn play a bickering married couple.
Beth worries that their grown son (Owen Teague) isn’t fulfilling his potential working in a cannabis store with a bunch of slacker potheads. She doesn’t feel any better about his situation when she’s in the store and it gets robbed.
Meanwhile, Beth’s sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), is weary of her job as an interior designer catering to uber-persnickety patrons. Sarah’s husband, Mark (Arian Moayed), is a struggling actor whose self-esteem has just taken a big hit.
Left: Arian Moayed and Michaela Watkins
All these mini crises intersect and come to a head when Beth overhears a remark made by her hubs to his brother-in-law, Mark, that he doesn’t really think her writing is, well, all that good. Suddenly, Beth’s whole world seems to implode. How could he betray her like that? Was Don lying all those times when he encouraged her as a writer and tried to be supportive? It makes her want to throw up on the sidewalk, but she’s too upset to even do that. Eventually, feelings get hurt all around.
This is the kind of small, grown-up movie that not a lot of studios make anymore—a subtle slice-of-life comedy with a small group of characters that feel like real people, in places that look authentically lived-in, instead of fabricated movie sets. It’s full of little micro details that might seem insignificant, but everything rings true, drawing us closer to the characters and providing connective tissue to their wobbly world—an obscenely overpriced hand-crafted bench, a doctor’s explanation of her new “concierge” fee, a wall of exotic socks, a wastebasket that never seems to get emptied, a blouse donated to the homeless that the donor later decides she wants back. It’s sharp and funny and sweet, and keenly observant about how couples and friends may tell little lies to each other—and themselves—and not even realize it. But they continue to love and live, and life goes on.
All the characters are immensely likeable and relatable. And the cast is tremendous, especially Louis-Dreyfus, the Seinfeld veteran whose finely tuned comedy chops can adapt to almost any situation. (I love how she turns a box of bakery doughnuts into a running gag.) It’s no wonder director Holofcener wanted to work with her again after Enough Said, in which JLD starred alongside James Gandolfini, Toni Collette, Catherine Keener and Ben Falcone. Michaela Watkins was also in that movie, too.
Speaking of Seinfeld, that show also revolved around neurotic, self-centered New Yorkers, and it routinely took little things and made big deals out of them—a puffy shirt, getting lost in a parking garage, waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant, muffin tops, fusilli. Even though it’s miles away from the crazily calibrated absurdity and goofiness of the TV series, there’s undeniably something Seinfeld-ian about this movie, in which little problems ripple into a wider sea of anxieties, and four central New Yorkers flail and flop around in it all.
Like Seinfeld, and like Woody Allen, You Hurt My Feelings understands how to find the funny in human frailty and foibles, and how to navigate the comically uneven—and sometimes messy—sidewalks of life, all the while with a knowing smile.