Beth (Julia Louis Dreyfus) is a writer and professor who is publishing her first fiction novel after the successful release of her memoir. Don (Tobias Menzies) is a marriage counselor, and their 20-ish son Elliott (Owen Teague) also aspires to write. He also sells marijuana. Beth and Don are dependent and supportive of each other until Beth unwisely overhears Don saying he does not like her book. He was only supportive, attempting to not to make her feel bad. This causes a sudden fracture in the marriage as Beth’s self-esteem falls and Don has his own confidence in helping other people’s failures in their relationship. Director Nicole Holofcener is consistent, giving enough meat off the bone for You Hurt My Feelings to play off with.
Holofcener makes reliable comedic dramas like You Hurt My Feelings. She can pick out small details in relationships that cause some hidden friction. Dreyfus, who starred in Holofcener’s Enough Said, is using a bit of that Elaine Benes magic from her Seinfeld days to be the jilted wife who realizes she’s not as liked as she thought she was. Beth’s first meeting with an agent is a downer when her book is rejected, then learns no one in her class even knows she is a published author. Then, there’s the pain of realizing that the bit of significance she thought she had isn’t even there. With Don, he believes he is helping people, but one couple (Amber Tamblyn and David Cross) seems to be getting worse after two years of seeing him, while another man (Zach Cherry) mumbles that Don is an idiot, which he overhears.
Accompanying their story is Beth’s sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins), a hard-to-please interior decorator, and her husband Mark (Arian Moayed), a struggling actor. Sarah is more honest with people, maybe a bit too blunt, but keeps her own truthful distance on Mark’s career, which is clearly in a rut. When he gets fired from a play, he questions all the time he has spent as an actor, only being recognized for a role in a film he did ten years earlier. Meanwhile, Elliott suffers from the breakup with her girlfriend, moves back in with his parents, and becomes uncomfortable with being a third wheel. It bothers him that they share everything outside the bedroom and may be as supportive as they should be following his breakup. Beth smokes marijuana yet doesn’t like that her son works in a dispensary. She also feels weird about buying it from him.
As the conflict seems to go up to its climax, however, You Hurt My Feelings evens itself without reaching its full potential. You Hurt My Feelings repeats the same problems in her other films. They could build higher in the conflicts, but they back down prematurely. The stakes are higher than they look, but Holofcener plays it too safe towards the end of the second act. The human elements are there for very real strife like the ones Don has in therapy. Regardless, she wraps up the 93-minute feature in a tidy, all-in-the-world-is-right manner that satisfies, despite the shortcomings.