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‘You Hurt My Feelings’ review: Marriage dramedy asks if well-intentioned positivity and truthfulness can co-exist

Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus play a long-standing couple who weigh if bluntness is the best recipe.

Jeong Park / A24

Here’s a quick scenario. Your significant other might like to cook your favorite dish for every anniversary. Let’s say they aren't exactly Gordon Ramsey – things might be overcooked and have too much salt. However, you eat it anyway because that’s your way of acknowledging their heartfelt gesture. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s entertainingly relevant You Hurt My Feelings looks at long-standing relationships from the standpoint of how honesty works within them. What’s a little white lie, right?

When you get that wool socks Christmas gift you didn’t ask for, a slight grin won’t hurt. Then, those well-intentioned fibs often set off a chain reaction of disbelief and hurt. Is it better to be truthful even though it might feel like a blunt object? Holofcener’s film cuts through this premise humorously and thoughtfully.

At the center of these questions are author/professor Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her husband Don (Tobias Menzies), a therapist starting to become burnt out from his profession. Their marriage is as solid as a rock – one of the first instances of the film is of the couple celebrating their anniversary. After exchanging gifts which come up as a basis of the premise later, they acknowledge how lucky they are. Beth has already published an acclaimed, but not massively circulated memoir and has started on her second book. This work of fiction means the world to her, and Don has been an integral part of the process – reading all the drafts and providing good feedback.

One day, Beth and her sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) overhear a conversation between Don and Sarah’s thespian husband, Mark (Arian Moayed), about how he feels about the novel. Don is not a fan of it, which understandably sends Beth into a tailspin. Everybody has different hobbies and passions within relationships. A lot of that uniqueness makes them so special – you can blend many of them into something of your own. You can imagine releasing a book into the world is terrifying enough. But your spouse? That’s supposed to be the safest place possible!

While it is a heavy subject, Holofcener gives the palate a delightfully cosmopolitan touch. The cast, especially the two couples we see, naturally moves from comedic tones to more emotional scenes. Besides dealing with these themes of revelations, it extends toward Don and Beth’s son, Elliott (Owen Teague), a 23-year-old trying to find his way and maybe finding out the unbridled encouragement from his parents may have hurt more than helped. At times, the audience gets to see different patients Don speaks to and where his electing to play middle ground might be knocking him off his game.

When Don and Beth’s relationship hits a snag, Holofcener elevates Sarah and Mark’s marriage to show a slight contrast. Sarah is an interior designer who is getting a bit tired of the unusual requests of her clients. Mark is an actor who falls within an ebb and flow of wanting success and not getting the part. Mark isn’t the greatest actor and might be too particular about the socks he wears, but Sarah loves him for it anyway. Everything with You Hurt My Feelings feels affectingly real – from the New York coffee shops, the outside scenery, and the genuine conversations these couples have about their likes and dislikes.

Is there a fine line to walk between being unabashedly poignant and fluffy? Many couples would say yes, which resembles something different in every union. That’s the triumph of this film – there isn’t a wasted conversation or a moment that doesn’t feel out of place.

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