Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus star in “You Hurt My Feelings.” Photo courtesy of A24
Jan. 24 (UPI) — You Hurt My Feelings, which premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival, lives up to the title by deriving an entire movie out of hurt feelings. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener‘s observational comedy is perceptive about the phenomenon of toxic positivity.
Don (Tobias Menzies) is a therapist married to Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), an author and writing teacher. One day out shopping, Beth overheard Don telling a friend he does not actually like the book on which she currently is working.
What bothers Beth more than Don’s critique is that he’s been pretending to encourage her after every draft she completes. Now, she second guesses everything Don says.
This is mostly an artist’s concern. If someone is a plumber, they either fixed a leak or didn’t, but artists want their work to matter and want people to like it.
Holofcener ramps up the pressure as Don continues the ruse long after Beth knows the truth. It’s also genuinely emotional, because Beth feels doubly betrayed by the dishonesty compounding the negativity.
You Hurt My Feelings shows how fragile many people’s egos can be as Beth manages to provoke a random couple at a bar with a simple question about their work. Holofcener exploits the notion of cringe comedy when characters in Beth’s life make situations uncomfortable.
Holofcener parallels Beth’s pain with Don’s frustration that he’s not helping his patients. He’s spread so thin he mixes up some patients, and he has others who come in every week to complain, but never do any work on themselves.
The poignant commonality is that everyone has needs and everyone keeps secrets from others to spare their feelings. But, that’s not helpful.
Not everyone is going to be great, and pretending they are can ultimately be counterproductive to either achieving their goals or realizing they have to change. People mean well, but can take it too far.
There are, of course, different degrees of toxic positivity. Humoring therapy patients or a book someone has spent years writing is major. Pretending to like a useless gift is more minor, but still part of the same continuum.
While Beth is the protagonist of You Hurt My Feelings, the overall point of the film is that everybody does it. Beth is guilty of it sometimes, and it’s not to say everyone should be brutally honest all the time, but perhaps to take most things with a grain of salt.
Beth and her sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), give out clothes to homeless people, some of whom are ungrateful. Their mother (Jeannie Berlin) has perhaps set an example overcompensating with positivity.
This is a conversation worth having, and You Hurt My Feelings presents it in a lighthearted, relatable way. It could be a conversation starter for audiences after seeing it, or at least make viewers think twice about compliments they take for granted.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.