Although tonally quite different, You Hurt My Feelings is thematically reminiscent of Seinfeld. I’m not saying that because both have Julia Louis-Dreyfus in common, although this strengthens the sentiment. Both are essentially about nothing, or more accurately, the little problems that we let snowball into big ones. Seinfeld’s 22-minute format was well-suited for mundane issues, but can something so minor sustain a 93-minute run time? Admittedly, You Hurt My Feelings seems stretched thin at times. Thanks to Louis-Dreyfus’ absorbing performance and Nicole Holofcener’s well-crafted dialogue, though, we find ourselves caring about the characters’ first-world dilemmas.
Louis-Dreyfus gives a reliably strong performance as Beth, a writer who found modest success with her memoir. Her mother, hilariously played by the always-welcome Jeannie Berlin, never misses an opportunity to mention that the memoir still should’ve sold better. This doesn’t discourage Beth from trying to leap to fiction. However, her ego endures a major blow when she overhears her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) speaking negatively about the new book behind her back. Beth is too shattered to confront Don with the scathing review as she second-guesses her profession.
Beth isn’t the only one falling short at their job. Don is a therapist, although none of his patients seem satisfied with their sessions. One played by David Cross argues that therapists shouldn’t be compensated unless patients make genuine progress. This frustration isn’t unwarranted, as Don isn’t the best therapist. He has his moments of wisdom, but much of his advice is generic and sometimes he mixes patients up. Beth’s sister (Michaela Watkins) is similarly underwhelmed at work while her husband (Arian Moayed) struggles to make it as an actor. None of these people are horrible at their jobs, but they’re far from the best in the business. You Hurt My Feelings is largely about coping with the notion of simply being good enough at your passion. That sums up the quality of the film: good enough.
The film revolves around Beth working up the courage to tell Don what she overheard. This can feel dragged out and when the moment finally comes, it’s not the cataclysmic showdown you might think. Maybe that’s the idea, but for a confrontation with so much build-up, it deserved a more significant payoff. This is what separates You Hurt My Feelings from Seinfeld, as that show always knew how to end a story (well, except for the series finale). Even if the outcome falls short, the experience does pave the way for some insightful conversations about marriage, honesty, and the flaws of human nature.
Nicole Holofcener previously directed Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said, another film that dealt with relationships and secrets. Enough Said also had a setup tailored for a sitcom, but Holofcener approached it with grounded nuance. Holofcener was more successful with Enough Said, but You Hurt My Feelings is another worthy outing. Even if its central conflict isn’t the most momentous, it is relatable for any artist who has ever presented their work to a significant other. Finding out that they don’t like your work isn’t as bad as cheating. It’s close enough, though.