A24's 'You Hurt My Feelings' asks, how much truth do you owe the one you love?
Truth hurts. So how honest should we be with feedback?
A24’s new film “You Hurt My Feelings,” in theaters Friday, explores this question. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Beth, an author and writing teacher happily married to her therapist husband Don, played by Tobias Menzies, who’s struggling to publish her latest book.
Her husband encourages her and insists she doesn’t need another draft. But Don is lying; He doesn’t like the book, which he tells his brother-in-law, played by Arian Moayed, and Beth happens to overhear.
As a creative person, writer and director Nicole Holofcener says she sometimes wonders if people are lying to her when they compliment her work. “You Hurt My Feelings” aims to explore that “nightmare” possibility, she says.
Walking the thin line between giving sincere feedback and hurting someone’s feelings is part of being human, Holofcener says.
“I do my best just to support [people] because if I love them or care about them or even appreciate their work, but not necessarily this one, I want them to feel good about themselves, just like I want them to make me feel good about myself when they don’t like my work,” she says. “It’s a conundrum.”
Beth’s reaction to learning the truth is a dramatic, important moment in the film — and for Holofcener, a critical part of writing the script.
“When I was writing it, I just put myself in her shoes and I thought, oh, is she going to move out?” Holofcener says. “She really can’t look him in the eye, not so much because he lied, but because it’s so humiliating to be lied to and believe it.”
Unlike Beth, Holofcener thinks she can discern when someone lies to her versus when her work deeply resonates.
“I can sort of tell when someone isn’t really in love with [my work],” she says. “And I can tell, I think I can, when someone really does get it and love it, and that just fills me up with love and warmth.”
Holofcener is no stranger to portraying awkward situations where characters say things they’re not supposed to on screen. Her 2006 film “Friends With Money” follows a woman who envies her rich friends. And in her 2013 film “Enough Said,” the central character finds out she’s dating her new friend’s ex-husband.
Despite the cringe, audiences keep watching because they see themselves in these moments, Holofcener says.
“The uncomfortable situations are the things we don’t talk about and skirt around. And that’s what interests me so much is to break the taboos,” she says. “Without an awkward situation, you don’t really have a conflict.”
Holofcener wants audiences to talk about “You Hurt My Feelings” and feel inspired by the film’s themes.
“I want to be able to hide in the restrooms and see what people say after they see the movie,” she says.
Some viewers may leave the theater feeling like they can handle the truth — but Holofcener doesn’t think she can. Despite the film’s overwhelmingly positive response at screening and reviews online, Holofcener can’t help but consider her dissenters.
“Yet there are two people online who didn’t like it. And I want to talk to them and I want them to take down their scores,” she says. “They’re just a blip. A blip. But who doesn’t do that right? Who doesn’t memorize the bad reviews as opposed to the good ones?”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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