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‘You Hurt My Feelings’ shows some of the pitfalls of being human

Jeong Park

A thing about people is that we don’t usually fit into a nice little box—most of us are not outright monsters or superheroes. We basically do the best we can, even though we don’t always know what the best is, and we care about the people around us, even though we do things that hurt them.

Nicole Holofcener makes movies that show people with all their warts, pettiness, passions, and generosity, acknowledging that all of these things exist within us at once, and without passing judgment. Her latest, You Hurt My Feelings, finds Julia Louis-Dreyfus as an author trying to get her second book published, following the modest success of her memoir that her mother says was good but that should have sold better. Her husband is a therapist who mostly traffics in frustration, less because of his abilities as a therapist, and more because that’s just how therapy goes. They love each other very much, enough that their twenty-something son still rolls his eyes, but of course parents exasperating their children is part of the fun of parenting.

We see as their insecurities about their jobs make them feel as if the floor is wobbling beneath them, and we understand. And we see how the very, very best intentions can still cause damage, because it’s impossible to perfectly thread that needle—we do our best to be supportive, but we can’t see every potential outcome, and everyone is bringing their own baggage anyway. Then again, we shouldn’t be expected to be perfect, and that’s a big part of what makes Holofcener so good here: no one is exactly wrong and no one is exactly right. There aren’t sides for us to take, because this is just how life is.

Holofcener is smart enough not to complicate her filmmaking, she knows the story she’s telling and doesn’t need to juice it up. Her writing is so sharp and the acting is so good that we feel like we know these people, because in a lot of ways we are these people. We mean the best, we really do, but even if our intentions aren’t paving the road to hell, we’re definitely building some speedbumps along the way.

You Hurt My Feelings is in theaters.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.