Saturday, February 10, 2024

Feedback Loop

Film: You Hurt My Feelings
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television

Some actors get typecast, or get known for a specific role and can’t seem to get away from it. Julie Louis-Dreyfus is, for almost everyone in the world, Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. That’s got to be a little frustrating, to have a career that for almost everyone in the world boils down to a single role. I don’t feel sorry for her, mind you—she’s clearly going to be able to live off the residuals if she lived to be 200. But I would imagine that she’s got to want to break away from that sometimes, which is how we get to You Hurt My Feelings.

or High concept movies tend to be action films, but this is a comedy/drama that can be easily summed up in a single sentence. An author working on her second book discovers that her husband doesn’t actually like her book. And really, that’s it. The film is an exploration of that event, but also the idea of honesty and how relationships work.

Beth (Louis-Dreyfus) is a creative writing teacher. Her first book is a memoir about her childhood and the abuse that she suffered at the hands of her father. She is working on her second book but her agent is less enthusiastic about it because this book is fiction, and so a significant change of pace. Her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) is a therapist with some very prickly clientele. Their son Eliot (Owen Teague) is working on his own writing, but works in a cannabis store.

One afternoon, Beth and her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) see Don and Sarah’s actor husband Mark (Arian Moayed) in a store. They sneak in to surprise them and overhear them talking. Specifically, Don is talking about the fact that he genuinely doesn’t like Beth’s new book, and even though he has read multiple drafts of the book, he still just doesn’t like it. The rest of the movie is Beth coming to terms with this, as well as the fact that she has essentially treated Eliot the same way (as encouragement) that Don is now treating her (which she considers lying).

A great deal of the film is about the ordinariness of the people involved. Don has clients who are actively angry with him, including a married couple (David Cross and Amber Tamblyn) who are so frustrated with him that they demand their money back from the last two years of therapy. Beth’s students don’t realize she’s written a successful book, and spend a class talking about other people’s memoirs. Sarah, who is an interior decorator, has a client who cannot be pleased no matter what Sarah brings to her. And Mark gets a part in a play and is almost immediately fired. These aren’t wildly successful people, or the sorts of people who live in apartments far beyond their means in a sitcom world. They fail at things. They’re average, and that makes them relatable.

This is also a movie that blends comedy and drama extremely well. That’s not always easy to do. There’s not anything in this movie that is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, but there’s a lot that feels like real-life humor. All of this, or at least most of it, is completely understandable. Even the main idea of Beth being angry at Don for essentially doing to her what she does to their son (and to him to some extent) has some humor in it. This isn’t really dark humor, but it’s not sitcom-brand comedy. It’s genuine, mostly because everyone in the film in one way or another feels like they are failing to simply be successful at being a person. The genius of this is that everyone else in the film, all of the minor characters, act like they should be the main characters. Don’s patients are miserable but act like he’s the one holding them back. Eliot’s coworker at the pot store calls herself an executive producer of films, even though she’s never worked on one.

All of the performances are good, but it’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus who carries the entire film on her shoulders. It’s her emotional crisis that we are dealing with, after all, and that means that she needs to be understandable to us, competent enough for us to want to care about her, and vulnerable enough to be wounded by things, and she absolutely is. This is a very nuanced performance. Not to go anti-Seinfeld (a show I’ve honestly never watched), but the broad comedy strokes from that are not here, aside from in a moment or two. Honestly, You Hurt My Feelings almost feels like something Woody Allen might have written if he weren’t obsessed with sex.

I enjoyed this a great deal. It’s smart and it’s ultimately rather sweet and honest. More importantly, it felt real, and that seems rare.

Why to watch You Hurt My Feelings: It feels very honest.
Why not to watch: No good reason. This is good start to finish.


  1. This is a film that I really want to see as I love both Nicole Holofcener and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the latter is just cool. Plus, she's in the MCU as Baroness Valentina Allegra de Fontaine who probably had the coolest introduction in any MCU project as her appearance was shocking but also GOD-LIKE!

    1. This is genuinely great. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this.