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Sundance London 2023 Review: You Hurt My Feelings is Quietly Spectacular

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in You Hurt My Feelings by Nicole Holofcener. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

This year marks the Sundance Summer Festival’s tenth London appearance. The Festival, from the famous film institute, showcases a number of excellent independent movies to a UK audience with early-access screenings. This year’s fest went out with a bang, concluding with Nicole Holofcener’s You Hurt My Feelings. It was a fine choice, illustrating everything that smaller character-driven movies can be.

You Hurt My Feelings is a slice-of-life comedy about Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a writer and lecturer. Beth is already struggling to follow up her successful memoir with a fiction novel when she overhears husband Don (Tobias Menzies) reveal that he doesn’t like the new book. This leads Beth into a crisis of confidence in both her ability and her marriage. As she soul searches, Beth watches how everyone she knows, including herself, lies in order to save people’s feelings. Like Don, who is in a career funk. He’s at best, a lacklustre therapist and is feeling his age. And their son Eliot (Owen Teague) takes work at a weed dispensary to avoid making difficult life choices. Then there’s Beth’s sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) who finds her interior design clients a drag, and Sarah’s husband Mark (Arian Moayed) who’s an actor making a career out of enduring rejection. This self-analysis helps Beth realise that it’s simply human nature to obsess over other’s opinions and maybe too much truth isn’t what she wants either.

This film is great. It has a light touch and feels effortlessly funny while not being scathing. Take watching Don awkwardly mix up his clients’ dilemmas (played by, among others, real-life spouses Amber Tamblyn and David Cross) or Beth navigating how to retrieve a blouse from a homeless woman when Beth’s mother (Jeannie Berlin) changes her mind.  But beneath that lightness, director Holofcener has a real handle on the modern human condition. You Hurt My Feelings sets its intentions in every scene; showing one point of view then providing other perspectives which are always funny and true. Holofcener also has a knack for casting. She reuses Dreyfus, following the success of previous film Enough Said, and every other character in the film is well-rounded with a story that matters. There is a believable familiarity in the marriages on screen, in the mother-daughter relationships and in the generational gaps. It’s not as talky as Woody Allen’s work, nor as mannered as Noah Baumbach’s, and that’s probably because of the universality of experience on show. And there are some twists in the usual narrative. The film explores male vanity without any judgement. It is Don who is unhappy with his appearance, Mark who has a crisis of ability and Eliot who is less career-driven than his girlfriend. One small critique is that the film won’t appeal to those aggravated by the small-scale problems of the Upper East Side Literati with seemingly no money worries. But this hasn’t stopped Allen from making films for six decades, so why shouldn’t Holofcener film what she knows?

You Hurt My Feelings is a near-perfect comedy of errors. And I wouldn’t lie to you, would I?

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