You Hurt My Feelings, the latest film from writer-director Nicole Holofcener, is about a life-long struggle. No, not the one that involves maintaining a family and relationships, which is hard enough work as it is. The concern here is the everpresent fear inherent to creative endeavours, which eventually arrives at the most loaded question any author, designer, or filmmaker can ask: is this good?
Beth and Don (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies) are well into their careers as, respectively, a writer and a therapist, yet that doesn’t stop their self-doubts—even with regard to their son, 23-year-old Eliot (Owen Teague). For Don, he’s started wondering if anything he’s doing is helping his patients; Beth, meanwhile, wants to sell a new book, her first try at fiction. While the outward stresses on their lives—and that of Beth’s sister and brother-in-law (the welcome Michaela Watkins and Arian Moayed)—are relatively minor, Holofcener is a pro at mining drama from this seemingly modest emotional terrain. In You Hurt My Feelings, she uncovers the exact worst-case scenario for an artist: overhearing negative feedback from a loved one. Again, since this is a Holofcener film, there aren’t grand pyrotechnics here, just the cast dialling into the right frequency, along with some unflashy direction, a few chuckles, and, most importantly, piercing moments of recognition. While we may have little in common with any of these characters, there’s a sense of self-reflection here—from Holofcener to herself, from the film outwards to us—that’s easy to appreciate. And you don’t need to be an artist yourself to see it.
Now over 25 years into her career, it’s worth noting the passage of time in Holofcener’s films. Dating struggles have given way to parenting problems, the thrill of the unknown having transformed into a thirst for stability. If that makes You Hurt My Feelings as mild as its title implies, it also marks the film as honest and direct. So Nicole, if you’re reading this, I can answer your question: yes, it’s good.