You Hurt My Feelings Wonderfully Explores White Lies

Images Courtesy of A24.

There’s something refreshing about watching a movie with an original concept devoid of any CGI or intellectual property attached to it. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy those movies (and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 proved that if made well, they can be a ton of fun). The issue is that there seem to be many of those and very few of the opposite. In fact, it’s because of the big tentpoles that we don’t get 7-10 films like You Hurt My Feelings every year. 

Nonetheless, we can celebrate that, in today’s film environment, a movie like this is released with familiar stars, a significant studio distributing it, a beloved writer-director at its helm, and—most importantly—it ends up being a tremendous delight. Ace director Nicole Holofcener harks back to her 2013 masterwork Enough Said with her latest, You Hurt My Feelings—a light dramedy with fabulous performance across the board that viewers can relate to, laugh a ton, and have a swell time at the movies. 

Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is an author and writing teacher who’s in a bit of a funk. She begins to doubt her abilities as a writer and notices a decrease in self-confidence. Beth is happily married to her therapist husband Don (Tobias Menzies) who, similarly, also begins to doubt his talent for helping other people. One day, Beth overhears Don telling a friend that he doesn’t like her latest book, after previously telling her he did. Beth’s already rattled self-confidence takes a deeper nosedive and what follows is a digestible and entertaining take on relationships and the effect the white lies we may tell each other when we’re trying to be supportive have. 

Don (Tobias Menzies) and Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), standing up in their New York City apartment adorned with photos and paintings on the wall, look shocked and horrified at something.
Don (Tobias Menzies) and Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

What I really loved about this film is the deftness and delicacy which Holofcener approaches her script, specifically the way she writes her characters. No one is a villain in this movie and that’s because everyone is written with depth which gives them motives and a personality that the audience can connect to. Don does say something hurtful to Beth, no doubt about it. But why he says it, what prompted him to, and what he’s personally going through is explored as much as Beth’s life, our protagonist and entry point into this relationship. 

And this doesn’t just extend to the actors who grace the poster of the film. Beth and Don’s son Elliott (Owen Teague) is given his own arc and proves to be vital to understanding Beth and Don’s actions in the movie. Beth’s sister Sarah (an excellent and often funny Michaela Watkins) and her husband Mark (Arian Moayed) have their own quirks and issues that feel distinct but also complement Beth and Don’s story. Weaving all these characters and their lives to form one coherent narrative in 93 minutes is no simple task, and Holofcener does it with ease time and time again. 

Holofcener’s accomplishments aren’t limited to characterizations as the dialogue is equally impressive. It’s funny and cathartic—all the characters speak like people you may know or might be yourself. She can balance laugh-out-loud scenes with emotional sequences and at no time does the viewer feel whiplash or a tonal imbalance. Her choices as a director are sharp, especially embracing the New York City of it all (it feels so great to watch a movie that doesn’t seem like it was filmed on a backlot somewhere in Atlanta).

Don sits back in his comfortable chair as he is holding a therapy session in a dimly lit room.
Don (Menzies) is a therapist.

The performances are the highlight of the movie with Louis-Dreyfus once again playing Holofcener’s muse to perfection. I hope both of them continue to make movies since they understand each other so well. Louis-Dreyfus is, as always, hilarious but I especially thought she was strong in the scenes that require her to be sad and at her lowest. The performance that blew me away though was Menzies’, who is just phenomenal in a complicated role. It could have been so easy to make Don an unlikable husband but Menzies imbues him with so much heart that you can’t help but feel for him. Both actors were terrific choices to play the lead couple and give some of the strongest performances of the year.

At no point will You Hurt My Feelings shock the viewer with its narrative nor does this film have any Marriage Story-esque outbursts. To some, the film may seem quaint and overly simplistic. And, perhaps, it is twee to some extent. The movie is predictable even in a genre that doesn’t usually surprise, but the decisions here are quite safe. This didn’t bother me too much since I wasn’t seeking a film to subvert my expectations or give me a unique perspective on relationships.

What Holofcener and her great crew of actors do provide is a nuanced and grounded take on marriage. Many couples will relate to Beth and Don, asking themselves if the white lies they tell each other are helpful, hurtful, or maybe neither. Was it better for Don just to tell Beth his true opinion of her novel? Would that have helped Beth? These questions and many others will spur conversations—and maybe some fights—among many couples. It’s not a spoiler to say that we don’t get a concrete answer and that’s the point. Every relationship is different and we go through highs and lows through the course of it. All we need is support. 

Written by Aqib Rasheed

AQIB RASHEED is a staff writer at Film Obsessive. Member of the Chicago Indie Critics and served as the Resident Film Critic for the Loyola Phoenix from 2021-2022. An admirer of movies, old and new, from all over the world. President of the Al Pacino and David Fincher fan clubs.

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