“Maybe if dad hadn’t just been verbally abusive it would’ve been a bestseller,” laments Beth (Julia-Louis Dreyfus), a moderately successful writer and creative writing coach, living comfortably in New York City. If her recently-released memoir rested on tepid material, the new novel she is working on seems even weaker. Her agent (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) concurs: “There’s lots of new voices. Refugees, cancer, murder, abuse.” How to compete?
Beth is stuck. As is Beth’s husband Don (Tobias Menzies), a sympathetic, comically unsuccessful therapist, dispensing detached and interchangeable behavioral advice to patients who seem to pity him. And so is her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins), an interior decorator catering to the absurdity of wealthy taste, and her husband Mark (Arian Moayed), a mediocre actor flirting with giving up. Engulfed by the banality of it all, their traumas and struggles are only distinguished by their lack of urgency.
The only way they know to persevere is through relentless self-affirmation and support of one another’s work. So when Beth overhears Don confessing to Mark that he did not like her manuscript, despite his feigned enthusiasm over all those drafts, it feels like a betrayal of existential proportions. The hurt in her feelings threatens to expose this whole little world as a lie.
It should and it shouldn’t. Nicole Holofcener has written and directed a kindly cynical romcom that astutely balances ridicule and care, contempt and re-calibrated affirmation. For better or worse, the stakes are not very high. “This world is falling apart, and this is what’s consuming you?” says Don to Beth. It is, and that’s ok. But in order to avoid falling into the chasm, Beth and the rest of them need to abandon any pretension or aspirations to distinction in our times. Carry on, love each other, don’t freak out, let your kids do their thing. Good and generous advice, and a thoroughly enjoyable film, within its limitations.
You Hurt My Feelings will be screening at The Lexington Venue June 2-4. Click here for showtimes and information.