(L-R) Stefanie Azpiazu, Tobias Menzies, Nicole Holofcener, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Anthony Bregman attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “You Hurt My Feelings” premiere at Eccles Center Theatre on January 22, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)
By Vanessa Zimmer
The Sundance Film Festival audience laughed heartily and often, from beginning to end, at the premiere Sunday night of You Hurt My Feelings — a funny story about a serious subject.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivers her signature comedic timing and nuanced facial expressions with aplomb as Beth Mitchell, a mildly successful author who overhears her husband — the man with whom she has lovingly shared ice cream cones over decades of marriage — saying he doesn’t like her second book. He has read multiple drafts of the novel, and told her he loved it. The overheard conversation crushes her.
Thus begins an exploration of that delicate space between being supportive of a loved one and being completely truthful. Can, and should, a white lie destroy trust? Is it wrong, even, to tell your partner that you love the sweater that he/she gifted you when you really hate it? (“It’s a very small thing about a very big thing,” says Louis-Dreyfus in the Q&A following the premiere.)
The film exposes the genuine, relatable wit of Nicole Holofcenter, a writer-director who has brought multiple stories to the Festival. Joining Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus on stage was Tobias Menzies, who portrays Beth’s husband, Don. The three projected a close, family-comfortable presence just hanging out together in front of a packed theater audience.
Menzies’ performance deftly bridges the gap between being an authentically tender husband and a professional therapist who fears he might be losing his edge — and maybe even his empathy for his clients. A therapist without empathy? That is rich and humorous territory.
“I like Nicole’s brain, actually. It’s quite a fun place to hang out in,” he says in the Q&A, to which Holofcener replies: “Not for me.”
Louis-Dreyfus says that, one day during lunch, Holofcener told her about this movie she’d written. Hearing about the Beth character and having worked with the director before in Enough Said, she immediately signed on: “Working with Nicole Holofcenter was irresistible.”
Rounding out the layers of parallels to the honesty/support issue in You Hurt My Feelings are Owen Teague as the Mitchells’ 23-year-old playwright-wannabe son; amusing Michaela Watkins as Beth’s sister, Sara; and Arian Moayed as Sara’s sensitive sometimes-successful actor husband.
So, is it possible to walk that line between being supportive and fully honest? “I guess that’s what I’m exploring,” says Holofcener. “I don’t know.”