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Spousal Support


You Hurt My Feelings (2023)

Nicole Holofcener is a national treasure who should be protected at all costs. There is hardly anyone in America anymore doing similar work to her, which is to say, making midbudgets about the everyday problems of middle-class people without a lick of special effects; it’s obvious why the Sundance Film Festival loves her. There are filmmakers all over Europe being praised to the skies for making movies about the first-world problems faced by the well-off in Paris or Amsterdam or cosy second homes in the countryside. Why is Ms. Holofcener one of the very few Americans working in this vein? Her movies are not twee and they are certainly aren’t boring; they just might have a little more realism than people care to deal with. It’s the drama of the everyday things, when a disagreement over a rack of tasteful earrings can be as high stakes as an infinity stone.

Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, extraordinary) and her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies, a surprising choice for the part, but an excellent one), have been married so happily for so long they are kind of intertwined, eating from the same plates and making a routine of their anniversary surprises. Their son, Elliott (Owen Teague), has recently graduated college and is working in a weed shop, though he still comes home whenever he wants, mostly to enjoy being fussed over. Beth regularly volunteers at their neighborhood church with her sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), a decorator who is married to Mark (Arian Moayed), an actor who is starting to realize his most successful roles are behind him. Don is a therapist who is struggling to pay attention to his patients, most notably the incredibly unhappily married couple Jonathan and Carolyn (David Cross and Amber Tamblyn respectively, in an absolute baller move, seeing as how in real life they are married to each other).

A few years ago Beth published a memoir about her unhappy childhood, and there is a recurring joke where people imply the memoir would have been more successful had Beth experienced more than verbal abuse as a kid, which is mainly funny due to the accuracy. She teaches a writing workshop to a group of people so desperate for any entry into the publishing world none of them have bothered to read her book, and has recently sent a novel to her agent for consideration, who is taking forever to give her feedback. The scene where Beth surreptitiously rearranges a bookshop display to highlight her own work, to the smirking disbelief of the store employees, understands how writers behave from the inside.

Jeffrey Waldron’s cinematography is crisp and cheerful, and doesn’t fuss over the pleasant New York City locations because the characters don’t either; this is just where they live. But when Beth and Sarah go for a relaxing day out and decide to surprise Mark and Don in a shop, they overhear Don confiding in Mark that he doesn’t think Beth’s new book is any good.

To say that Beth is devastated is an understatement. She flees out to the street corner and nearly throws up, then through sobs tells Sarah that this has destroyed her entire life. The way in which Ms. Louis-Dreyfus cries in this scene – the kind of heaving full-body sobs than come from a kind of hidden pain uncontrollably and embarrassingly exploding – makes you reassess every tear you’ve ever seen shed onscreen before. It is exactly right. And that means you believe it when she tells her sister she relies on Don’s good opinion to know if her work is any good or not. He's been telling her to her face how much he likes the book, and now she can’t help but wonder if her entire life is therefore a lie.

The rest of the movie asks whether Beth will ever be able to look Don in the face again, much less be confident and happy in herself or her own work. Sarah immediately tells Mark what’s happened, but neither of them quite know what to do, or how to help without making matters worse. Don is so worried about his professional slump he doesn’t initially notice Beth’s fury towards him, and Elliott is too preoccupied with the final stage of his growing pains that he can’t quite figure out his mother is a person herself, too. But in a terrible – and terribly realistic – way, Elliott’s childish self-centeredness gives both Beth and Don the big push they need to sort their heads out, one way or another.

At one point Beth is asked why she’s so upset about this when the world is falling apart, and she gasps that she knows it is; but at the same time her own little world is falling apart, and that’s just as upsetting. She might not be able to do anything about global warming, but her marriage was something she relied on as much as being able to predict the weather, and the thought of losing that would upset anybody. A man hurting his wife’s feelings might not seem like the biggest issue, but if it turns three happy lives into three unhappy ones that’s pretty important. And it’s so refreshing that a director as talented and sharp as Ms. Holofcener is continuing to make movies which know the little issues are often just as important as the bigger ones.


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