This review is part of our coverage of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
The Pitch: At first blush, Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) are the picture of a healthy, collaborative middle-aged marriage. She’s an author with one undersold (but well-reviewed) book under her belt — a memoir about her “verbally abusive” father, which invites the grim question as to whether it would have sold better if her childhood had been worse — and he’s a therapist with a rapidly-waning interest in his prickly patients.
Sure, Beth’s sister (Michaela Watkins) bristles against her fickle interior decorating clients, and their son (Owen Teague) is an unambitious manager at a local dispensary, but they seem pretty stable through all these first-world New York problems.
That is, until one day, Beth accidentally overhears Don telling his brother-in-law (Arian Moayed) that he doesn’t like the new book she’s been working on. It cuts her to the quick; it’s just a book, but it’s deeply important to her that the person she’s with approve of her work. But knowing this secret information starts to unravel her sense of self, not to mention her marriage, as she has to figure out a way to move forward with this terrible knowledge.
I Had to Tell It: Nicole Holofcener’s films, with few exceptions, are charming, deceptively insightful fables about the little white lies we tell ourselves (and each other) just to get through the day. She’s a purveyor of the hilarious and achingly honest, building high drama out of the everyday textures of modern life, and You Hurt My Feelings is no different. In fact, it may well be one of her best works in a good long while.
The topic of the day, such as it is, is disappointment — the expectations we set up for ourselves, and more importantly, others set up for us, and when they hit the brick wall of reality. For Beth, it’s the expectation that she’s a successful writer, also moonlighting as a writing professor for students she’d love more than anything to believe are drawn to their work. (Surprise, they’ve barely heard of her most well-known book.)
Louis-Dreyfus, reuniting with Holofcener for the first time since Enough Said a decade ago, is predictably incredible, smart, and a bit too self-aware for her own good: Beth is a perfect channel for that Elaine-caliber befuddlement, that furrowed brow of confusion when something new and devastating happens to her. She’s warm and acerbic, often in the same sentence, and it’s always a joy to watch her work. Thank heaven Holofcener recognizes that her talents shouldn’t be restricted to the small screen.