Just how important is honesty in a marriage? Lies tend to be most dangerous when the truth is exposed, and that’s not always an inevitability. You Hurt My Feelings amusingly explores what happens when the last person you want to overhear a secret admission does, and what the road back to an open and honest relationship can look like if that element of trust is threatened.
Writer-Director Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing) returns to Sundance with a film that doesn’t make things too complicated, and in the process exposes the way in which people deal with uncomfortable situations. Don (Tobias Menzies) is a therapist who spends his time listening to other people’s problems. He takes care not to add much of his own insight, something that infuriates one unhappy couple (real-life spouses David Cross and Amber Tamblyn) who he struggles to help. He finds that he’s the one in need of help when his novelist wife, Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), overhears him saying that he doesn’t like her new book.
Holofcener has made a successful career out of portraying the small problems people have with each other that begin to undermine their stability and happiness in films like Friends With Money, Please Give, and Enough Said. Her latest effort continues that focus, with stakes that are never incredibly high, but with plenty of awkwardness to go around as Beth deals with the news in a very passive-aggressive manner and expresses that she’s not sure she can ever trust her husband again.
Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus previously collaborated on Enough Said, and the Emmy-winning actress can make almost any line she delivers hilarious. However, Beth doesn’t feel like her most fully fleshed-out character, though she’s still very capable of nodding along incredulously when someone says something absurd, and muttering humorous observations under her breath that only the audience is supposed to hear. There are similarities here to Force Majeure, a film all about marital strife that was adapted into a very entertaining American film called Downhill that starred Louis-Dreyfus, but Holofcener doesn’t push the tension in the relationship quite as far.
It’s fun to see Menzies, best known for his own Emmy-winning portrayal of Prince Philip in The Crown, lighten up and have a good time with his role. Don has never really considered that he might not be great at his job, and it’s amusing to watch as his patients, including Zach Cherry (Severance), question his true skill as a therapist. He also starts to panic when he confuses his patients and their various fractured relationships, and that journey of self-doubt and discovery is almost more interesting than the husband-wife drama that ensues.
There are many jokes in You Hurt My Feelings that pleased the large crowd seated for the Sundance premiere, and the film also earned a warm compliment from attendee Michael J. Fox, who expressed how real its depiction of a longstanding marriage felt. In that sense, the film gleans its best comedy from observing what might be closest to real life, and as a result, it doesn’t go for big laughs. Supporting players Michaela Watkins and Arian Moayed steal scenes as Beth’s sister and brother-in-law, respectively, who are at a different place in their own relationship and have to find ways to encourage each other through rough points, while Owen Teague is smartly cast as Beth and Don’s son Owen, who is going through his own relationship woes while working at a marijuana dispensary.
With You Hurt My Feelings, Holofcener has delivered an enjoyable movie that uses her actors well, but there is nothing groundbreaking or all that resonant about the film itself. That may be the very point since not every story needs to be wholeheartedly original or memorable — it may succeed by simply being normal and familiar. A24 boarded this film more than a year ago, confident in Holofcener’s reputation and Louis-Dreyfus’ star power, and the indie distributor should allow it to reach a wide audience, one that will either find the film to be a refreshing mirror of their own lives or a perfectly standard but nonetheless enjoyable comedy.
You Hurt My Feelings will screen five more times this week at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival before it hits theaters later this year courtesy of A24.