Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ latest makes the case for rattled cages

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

You Hurt My Feelings
Opens Friday 26
3 out of 5

Scene from the Castillo household:
Me: You never read my reviews.
Wife: What for? I know exactly what’s in them.
Me: How so?
Wife: You steal my comments.
Me: [clutches pearls] I would never! But for the sake of argument, give me an example.
Wife: When I told you Reese Witherspoon plays the same character in every movie.
Me: Everybody knows that! It’s her defining attribute!

The above authentic, good-natured bickering masks several volatile issues — resentment, professional jealousy, minimizing Reese Witherspoon’s achievements — that long-term couples must navigate. The outcome (we both laughed) is the result of thousands of previous interactions that have established boundaries and tolerance levels.

In You Hurt My Feelings, writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) surveys this nuanced, rarely explored aspect of coupledom using cringe comedy, sharp dialogue and finely calibrated performances. It also brings attention to the intrinsic aggressiveness of the “I’m just being honest” line.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld) tones down her feisty persona to play Beth, an author struggling to get her sophomore effort published. Her first book, an autobiography about growing up with a verbally abusive father (yeah, that’s played for a joke) didn’t set bookstores on fire, but it got her a gig teaching writing.

Her husband Don (Tobias Menzies, The Crown) is a therapist with his own issues. He feels ineffective and his patients resent him for it (cue cameo by real-life couple David Cross and Amber Tamblyn, who in this film don’t have anything in common besides shared contempt for their counsellor). Don doesn’t think highly of his wife’s writing, an issue that becomes a full-blown crisis when she overhears him ripping her second novel apart to a friend.

You Hurt My Feelings identifies the factors that separate a merely functional marriage from a successful one. It comes down to honesty: white lies and omissions may get you through the day, but conflict deconstruction provides a sturdier, longer lasting structure. One is easy (don’t knock it) while the other takes time and is emotionally taxing.

The film’s more engaging top half is a riot. Beth’s students and Don’s patients are recognizably awful, and their son is the classic, cliched overpraised Gen-Z kid completely adrift in today’s world. Given the subject, it takes a less-effective turn into drama territory to reach a resolution.

You Hurt My Feelings is an adult comedy about relationships — the kind of movie you rarely see at the multiplex anymore. This doesn’t mean Feelings is particularly cinematic (TV veteran Jeffrey Waldron is the cinematographer). Shots of the reliably photogenic New York City and implausibly roomy apartments don’t quite cut it if you want to lure audiences back to theatres for the big-screen experience. ■