Sundance Review: ‘You Hurt My Feelings’ does Julia Louis-Dreyfus no favors
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, You Hurt My Feelings features Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Beth, a successful author who is suffering a crisis of confidence in her new book. Married to a therapist Don (Tobias Menzies), her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) and husband Mark (Arian Moayed) complete the central quartet in this relationship drama.
On many levels this film feels like any number of early Woody Allen efforts. There is overlapping dialogue, inconsequential crisis, and heartfelt conversations between overtly affluent uptown residents suffering from existential angst. The paper-thin premise which glues things together comes from an overheard exchange between husbands in a store by their wives.
That this can be expanded to fill two hours of screentime is amazing, as beneath all the awkward dinner parties and confessional confrontations, the film is quite mundane. Although there are some funny subplots concerning Don’s patients suing him for not solving their problems, and chemistry between our quartet is solid enough – audiences may often find their attention drifting elsewhere.
Although the question of supporting someone in a relationship through strategic lying is an intriguing one, which on more than one occasion raises some questions – films need more than that to come across as substantial. Recurring cameos from David Cross and Amber Tamblyn as a bickering couple might provide some comedy gold, but in the main, this is a film where any dramatic potential has been stretched too thin for padding purposes.
What this title is doing at The Sundance Film Festival is up for debate, since it neither breaks new ground nor finds an intriguing twist to apply to the material. There is no denying that the performances from this solid ensemble cast are uniformly excellent, but frequently they appear to be treading water.
As Beth, Louis-Dreyfus is a mass of insecurities, who feels slighted by her long-term partner for giving his honest opinion. There is some mileage to be garnered from this, but again, nowhere near enough to make it worth the running time. As older son to Beth and Don, Owen Teague works hard as Eliot, who is also writing a play unbeknownst to his parents.
When they do get wind of his artistic endeavor, Beth appears supportive, yet pulls the same trick on her son, which she has just accused Don on doing. Such is the tangled web they weave throughout this film, which ultimately feels more akin to a Woody Allen homage than anything overtly original. Moral quandaries aside, You Hurt My Feelings, never really delves into relationship dramas with enough gumption, preferring instead to stay on safe ground.
If marital infidelity had merged with discussions around artistic integrity, not only would this have given the film more emotional meat to work with, but discussions on trust could have been expanded on. From a critical perspective it is evident that Holofcener had some great ideas, but in the main, they seem quite blinkered beyond a select number of thematic pre-occupations.
For audiences seeking something similar, it might be best to go back to the cinematic source, as in Allen himself. Start with Annie Hall, move on to Love and Death, before concluding with Manhattan and maybe Hannah and Her Sisters. Not only do all of these films eloquently expand on the artistic struggle, but they also go deep on the relationship conundrum as well.
When faced with a choice between the cinematic equivalent of an emotional half measure, or something more substantial, it seems foolish to compromise. With this Sundance effort that is exactly what audiences will be doing, should they seek to settle. Although You Hurt My Feelings is far from a terrible film, it just fails to elicit an emotional response as events slowly unfold.
For that reason, any of the so-called drama stays at a distance, making this an occasionally bland watch rather than anything more potent. There are a multitude of movies which have walked similar paths when it comes to telling these stories, but unfortunately this effort from Holofcener never culminates into anything approaching an epiphany. A fact which is hard to get past when it comes to recommending this for anyone other than hardcore fans of Louis-Dreyfus.
Tried, tested, and uninspiring - this four way relationship drama goes over old ground