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You Hurt My Feelings ★★

Availability: Streaming on multiple platforms, for the uniform price of $19.99, AppleTV, Amazon, DirecTV, and others. See JustWatch here.


Honey, You Shrunk My Self-Esteem


A writer-wife overhears her husband say her current manuscript is just not that good: “I don’t like this new book,” he tells his wife’s brother-in-law. Fodder for marital discord, and for an exploration of truth-telling: should you tell your spouse/child/student/best friend your negative assessment of their work or, with all good intent, lie? Julia Louis-Dreyfus (of TV’s “Seinfeld” and “Veep” fame) as the wife, Beth, and director Nicole Holofcener (co-writer of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” [2018]) anchor a production of little more than 1½ hours, from which one would expect engaging acting and a taut script of some depth.

 

... a somewhat sophomoric treatment of worthy, even current topics.

 

Unfortunately, we get neither in this slight, somewhat sophomoric treatment of worthy, even current topics. On the truth or friend, critic or help-mate scale, at one end there’s the caricatured Jewish mother (Jeannie Berlin), commenting on her daughter Beth’s moderately successful memoir with a hint of nastiness, “It could’ve been better.” On the other end, Beth repeatedly tells her pot-store-manager son Eliot (Owen Teague, nicely embodying the alienated only child) that the play he is writing will be “fantastic.” “You haven’t read it,” he points out.


Above husband Don (Tobias Menzies) and wife Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) - about as dramatic as they get in this film - are shocked when their son tells them they don't pay enough attention to him.


There’s potential drama here, especially between husband (Tobias Menzies dully portrays a pathetic therapist—Bill Murray, where are you when we need you?) and wife, and between generations. Beth the mother and teacher offers uncritical praise and acceptance of her son as well as of her writing students, whose projects border on the inane: “I want to write about prisons,” says one. “And what about prisons?” Beth probes. “Jail,” he adds. Her response: “For sure.”

 

Is Holofcener one more champion of an over-exposed therapeutic culture?

 

Is Holofcener adroitly bringing to our attention the excessive praise of children and young adults (as in “every child gets a trophy”)? Is she one more champion of an over-exposed therapeutic culture (most recently critiqued by David Brooks, “Hey America, Grow Up!” New York Times, August 10, 2023)? Overpraise can lead to adults who lack resilience (husband needs to present the hurtful information to wife in a “safe” way), but bald truths can harm (“you hurt my feelings,“ I’m a failed writer). Perhaps because the film takes the middle-ground, however sensible that might seem, the story fails to generate the conflict, drama and insight one anticipates and desires. It’s also possible that in presenting the anxieties and neuroses of 6 characters, none of them, and none of the relationships, receive sufficient attention.



When one martini is not enough: Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), right, contemplates her husband's truth-telling when he overhears his criticism of her manuscript.




All of the musings over macro themes give Holofcener’s thin script more than its due. Damping down Louis-Dreyfus only makes one long for more expressiveness from this exceptional comedian. She’s surrounded by “fellow ordinaries”: her dud of a husband, her flailing decorator sister (Michaela Watkins), her untalented actor brother-in-law (Arian Moayed), her yet-to-make-it 23-year-old son. A film about ordinary people of modest abilities seeking modest success—and squarely confronting (or denying) their limitations—could be intense and revealing. But Holofcener doesn’t seem to have anything that interesting in mind.

 

When Botox is a character’s great achievement after 90 minutes of mid-life crisis, well, let’s just say it doesn’t make a script sparkle.

 

Saving the worst for last, the “wrap” is, in a word, lame. Not to spoil it, but no one has roaring success. One might hope that’s the point, that deliberately avoiding anything resembling a Hollywood ending would make for a poignant, honest and powerful conclusion. Instead, there’s just more blah-ness. When Botox is a character’s great achievement after 90 minutes of mid-life crisis, well, let’s just say it doesn’t make a script sparkle.


Last year’s “Hannah Ha Ha,” which introduced us to the “ultra-indie” with its miniscule budget (and no doubt equally miniscule audience), did more on the subject of the search for a meaningful life by a truly ordinary person than this star-propelled so-called indie with its $25 million price tag. “You Hurt My Feelings” might fare better as a made-for-TV movie, though much of TV these days is more entertaining and substantial.


 

Date: 2023

Stars: 2 (out of 4)

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Owen Teague, Jeannie Berlin, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed

Country: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 93 minutes

Other Awards: 2 nominations to date

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