In 'You Hurt My Feelings,' the stakes are low but deeply relatable : Pop Culture Happy Hour You Hurt My Feelings is the latest film from the writer and director Nicole Holofcener. It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a writer who discovers that her husband (Tobias Menzies) doesn't like her new book. She's rattled so hard that it threatens her marriage. The supporting cast also includes Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, and Owen Teague.

In 'You Hurt My Feelings,' the stakes are low but deeply relatable

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Knowing the truth can be very, very messy. That's the thesis of the new film "You Hurt My Feelings." It's about what happens when a writer learns that someone she loves doesn't like her work.


The film stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as an author who's struggling to sell her novel and feeling increasingly insecure about it. Then she and her sister overhear her husband talking about the fact that he doesn't like it, which rattles her so hard that it threatens her marriage. I'm Aisha Harris.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today we're talking about "You Hurt My Feelings" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.


HOLMES: It's just me and Aisha today. "You Hurt My Feelings" is the latest film from the writer and director Nicole Holofcener. She worked with Julia Louis-Dreyfus before on the 2013 film "Enough Said." They collaborate again here, where Louis-Dreyfus plays Beth. She's a writing professor whose memoir saw at least some success and who's now working to sell her novel. Her agent seems ambivalent and unconvinced, and she turns repeatedly to her husband Don, played by Tobias Menzies, for reassurance. And he provides it right up until the moment when she overhears him telling a friend that he doesn't like the novel at all. This puts a profound strain on her marriage, and it dovetails with her efforts to support her son Elliott, played by Owen Teague, who himself is a playwright trying to finish his first play.

The supporting cast also includes Michaela Watkins as Beth's sister Sarah and Arian Moayed - yes, that's "Succession's" ruthless Stewie - as Sarah's loving, struggling actor husband Mark. "You Hurt My Feelings" is in theaters now. Aisha, you and I have both written books that either are out or are about to be out. Did you relate to this story as a creative person?

HARRIS: Oh, boy, did I. You know, we're both critics, obviously, and so we're used to having people critique our work to our Twitter handles all the time.

HOLMES: Exactly.

HARRIS: But, you know, the random stranger coming into your mentions on the internet is very different from the people who you actually know and love and hope love you and also love your work. And especially when it's something that you've labored over for sometimes years, in the case of my book. But it definitely struck a nerve because I did have a similar kind of fear while writing my book that, you know, my parents, who are mentioned in it, and - as well as my partner - how they would respond to it.

And what I love about this movie is that there's a scene after Beth has learned that her husband doesn't really like her new book. She's, like, venting to her sister about it, and she says something along the lines of, he doesn't respect me. And her sister's like, of course he respects you. And Beth says, how could he? He doesn't like my work. And that right there kind of just crystallizes what it feels like when you are - you know, you spend so much time working on something and someone says, I don't like your work.


HARRIS: And if that someone is your husband, (laughter) it will hit you hard in a way that it wouldn't hit from someone else. All of this, in the grand scheme of things, is not the worst thing in the world.

HOLMES: Right, totally.

HARRIS: But to them it is monumental. It is seismic. It is, like, world shifting because they think that like, oh, now what else don't you like about me? Or what else have you been keeping from me? And it does such a good job of really digging into all these little insecurities and also the sort of lies that we tell ourselves, and also the little white lies that we tell other people because we care about them.

HOLMES: Yeah, what I really like about it too, is, you know, in a world where so many of the movies that you and I both see are things where either the consequences are epic - save the universe, save the country - or the consequences are personal, but tragic - they are about trauma...


HOLMES: ...Or death or something like that - I love the fact that the stakes here are small, but they're very specific. They're very contained. They're not necessarily - like you said, it's not the worst thing in the world. But to me, this is part of what it is to be human, is the day in and day out of dealing with the things that aren't the worst thing in the world.

And it's such a particular portrayal of such genuine pain. I think that Julia Louis-Dreyfus so often is so funny that it's really striking when you see her in this role where she's so hurt. I mean, it's in the title. She is frustrated, and part of it is her getting into kind of a back and forth with her husband, who tries to explain to her, you know, that he does respect her and he does like her work.


JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) If that's not lying, I don't know what is lying.

TOBIAS MENZIES: (As Don) It's not a real lie. It's knowing that it's just my opinion and I'm probably wrong. OK? I didn't want to discourage you. You know, what do I know? I wanted to support you, you know, whether I liked it or not, OK?

HOLMES: And I like the fact that they don't have him immediately turn around and be like, I do like the book. I was just having a bad day. They sort of stay in this relatively honest place of, what if he really didn't like the book? And what if you had to kind of figure out a way to deal with that?

HARRIS: Exactly. Yeah. It kind of questions, like, is there such a thing as, like, a good lie, or even, like, withholding, in a way? He hurts her feelings because she finds out about it. But he was telling her he liked it because he didn't want to hurt her feelings.

HOLMES: Right.

HARRIS: You know, he wanted to show his support, and he thought that was how he could show his support. I actually think this movie would make a really good double feature with "Showing Up," the Kelly Reichardt movie that we actually reviewed a little while ago on the show, because that is also about artists making art and being overwhelmed by this need to finish this art and create this art. And I think they're kind of operating on similar playing fields in terms of how they are in these sort of insular worlds. But it means so, so much to them.


HARRIS: What do you think about - obviously Beth is going through her own thing, but then Don is also going through his thing. In a twist that I like, he's concerned about looking older now, which - usually it's the woman who is, but, like...

HOLMES: Right, right.

HARRIS: ...He's concerned about, like, how he looks. And he laments that he's no longer young and hot. But then also as a therapist, he's feeling kind of adrift because he's feeling like he's not connecting with his patients in the way that he used to. And I'm curious, like, what you thought about his sort of parallel internal struggle when it comes to his profession?

HOLMES: Yeah, I really liked it. You know, I think a lot of times when people think about the screenplays of somebody like Nicole Holofcener, they think about the dialogue itself. They think about the kind of clever back and forth dialogue. She, you know, she became known for, like, "Walking And Talking" and these kind of chat movies. But this is also, I think, a really well structured screenplay because of the way that it incorporates Don and his issues as a therapist because there's this fascinating, as you said, kind of B-plot, almost, about him and this couple played by David Cross and Amber Tamblyn, who are dissatisfied with the therapy they've been getting, and also this guy played by Zach Cherry, who you would know maybe from "Severance" or a memorable small role on "Succession," who comes in, really, as a guy who's just generally underwhelmed by Don and the therapy and makes these little comments, and they have to come to a kind of an understanding.

But I think what that story does - it makes Beth's insecurity feel less petty. The sense I got was for all these people, because they're in fairly well-settled, happy relationships, they don't go around affirming each other actively all the time. There's a scene at the beginning where Don and Beth are at this anniversary dinner, and they're just kind of very comfortable and happy and functional. I think it's almost like they're so accustomed to that relationship that they don't get a lot of affirmation out of it, so they're getting all of their affirmation day to day from work. And so it's true of her. It's true of her husband. It's true of her brother-in-law that they're trying to figure out, I'm a person in middle age. Where am I getting my day-to-day votes of confidence in my...

HARRIS: Your ego.

HOLMES: Right - my ego, a little ego boost, yeah. Where's my ego coming from once my life is stable, you know?


HOLMES: It becomes a thing that's about struggling to prioritize your personal relationships while also understanding that for a lot of people, you care a lot about your work as part of your identity, and that's OK, you know?

HARRIS: Yeah. Even Sarah, Beth's sister, is dealing with that as well 'cause she's, like, a decorator, and her client...

HOLMES: Oh, my gosh.

HARRIS: ...Is perpetually unhappy with whatever she...

HOLMES: With the light fixture. Yeah.

HARRIS: There have been so many sort of midlife crises or what-am-I-doing-with-my-life stories. And I think this one, because it's so specific and each character is going through their own journey that's not, like, a direct parallel to the other characters - I think that, to me, is why - a huge part of why this works. Like, even their son, Elliott...

HOLMES: Yeah. Let's talk about Elliott.

HARRIS: Yeah. So another way this is similar - because, like, my dad, like myself, is a writer. So there's, like - there can be pressure if you choose the same profession as your parent or another sibling. And Elliott is an aspiring playwright. He kind of explodes at one point on Beth because he talks about how he feels she wasn't honest with him as a kid and honest about his actual talents and capabilities.


OWEN TEAGUE: (As Elliott) Do you remember when you said I was a great swimmer and you enrolled me in that advanced class?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) Oh, boy.

TEAGUE: (As Elliott) I wasn't a great swimmer. I kept telling you that. I was average. My teacher even said I should take a beginner class.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) She did?

TEAGUE: (As Elliott) Yeah. It was mortifying. But worse than that, I didn't know who to believe.

HOLMES: And I really liked that his character was just kind of like, Mom, I need you to be honest with me. And also, this is why I don't want to show you this play that I'm working on because it scares me to death to think of how you're going to critique it.

HARRIS: Right.

HOLMES: And I think it's the specificity of the emotional problems between the characters that I think makes the film work so well, that Elliott's complaint to her is very particular to their way of interacting. It's more she genuinely believes that the best and most helpful and important way to support him is to pump him up all the time.

HARRIS: Exactly. Yeah.

HOLMES: You learn eventually that when she was a child, her father was verbally abusive to her and called her stupid. And she grew up with, you know, one parent, at least, who cut her down all the time. So you can understand how she grew up thinking, I'm never going to do that.


HOLMES: I'm going to tell my kid, you're great. You're great. You're great. And what Elliott is doing is that as he's becoming an adult, he's able to express to her that actually has a real downside, and what you're looking for is some kind of in-between place. And you actually see her as a person who loves her kid, taking on board what he's asking for from her and trying to do it. And I think there's something very touching about that 'cause she's not perfect at it, but she's working on it.

The other thing I have to say is, like, when you make a movie like this that is so reliant on conversations, it is so important to line up this killer cast...

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

HOLMES: ...Whether it is Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies, who, before he was an often kind of chilly Philip on "The Crown," he was also this horrible, abusive man on "Outlander." So to me, seeing Tobias Menzies as this really very, like, menschy (ph) kind of husband was really cool. But also they have surrounded them with - you know, look, whenever I see Michaela Watkins in a movie, I always think, like, phew.




HOLMES: All is well.


HOLMES: I have never seen Arian Moayed like this. And, you know, like I said, the therapy patients and the - they have really, really put together, I think, a super impressive cast that allows them to kind of have just conversation after conversation and have it be compelling.

HARRIS: Yeah. Nicole Holofcener is really good at that. She made the movie "Walking And Talking," and, like, and we haven't even mentioned Beth and Sarah's mom, Georgia, who's played by Jeannie Berlin, who...

HOLMES: Jeannie Berlin.

HARRIS: Her dry, sort of humorless but very funny delivery of all of her lines - and, you know, she's playing their mother, and she's got a little spice to her. At one point, she's annoyed because one of her daughters calls her cute, and she's like, don't call me cute. And I'm just like, I love this. Like, I think...


HARRIS: It's just such a great cast. And they all gel together so well. Like you were saying earlier, it just feels nice to have a movie where the stakes are pretty small, but they still feel very real. And I was very happy that they all existed, and it just worked really well for me.

HOLMES: Yeah. I think you can understand how people feel the way they feel, and I think it's a bunch of people working through a legitimately thorny thing. I personally would love to see, like, a 10-film series where Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michaela Watkins are sisters.


HOLMES: Bring me as much of that as there could ever be. So yeah, I'm super impressed with this film. I think it is such a joy to see things like this coming to theaters and still being an opportunity to see a bunch of stupendous actors in a great film. Kudos to all.

Well, we want to know what you think about "You Hurt My Feelings." Find us at That brings us to the end of our show. Aisha Harris, you would never hurt my feelings. Thank you so much for being here.

HARRIS: Oh, same to you, Linda. Thank you.

HOLMES: This episode was produced by Rommel Wood and edited by Mike Katzif, and Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Linda Holmes, and we'll see you all tomorrow.


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