Thursday, May 18, 2023

A slender but smart comedy

"The problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."
    So goes Humphrey Bogart's famous line from Casablanca, a smart reminder about the importance of personal problems in a world full of trouble.
    It's a memorable line. but don't repeat it for the characters in director Nicole Holofcener's You Hurt My Feelings, a comedy about characters suffering through what might be called mini-crises.
      Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Beth, a writer whose first book, a memoir, scored a modest success. Beth revealed that her father often was verbally abusive, not exactly a shocker on the level of being chained in a cellar, but it evidently did the trick.
      Riding a small wave of success, Beth tried her hand at a novel. Her agent wasn’t impressed.
     Already depressed and facing a growing loss of confidence, Beth suffers more mood deflation when she overhears her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) tell her brother-in-law (Arian Moayed) that he didn't like the book either.
     Don's confidence also is beginning to crack. Patients say he's not helping them, and one couple (Amber Tamblyn and David Cross) spend session after session trading bitter barbs. When they finally decide to quit therapy, they deliver Holofcener's best joke.
      Beth's interior designer sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) seems to operate on more solid ground than the rest of the cast, even when a client tests her patience by insisting that she find just the right lighting fixture, one that reflects the client’s true self.
      The woes continue. An actor, Sarah's husband (Moayed) is shattered when he's fired from the play in which he finally found work. 
      For Beth, Don's overheard confession proves confounding, particularly because he consistently praised her work during the writing process. 
       And if he lied about that, what else might he have been lying about? 
      Another question arises: When should encouragement be subordinated to the honest expression of one's feelings?
      Beth herself is a chronic over-praiser. Her son (Owen Teague) works in a pot shop. She's sure that the play he's writing will be terrific.
     Only Beth and Sarah's mom (Jeannie Berlin) can be counted on not to hand out plaudits.
      Slender but enjoyable, You Hurt My Feelings doesn't feel like a movie that wants to change anyone's life. Even better, it only takes Holofcener a refreshing one hour and 33 minutes to involve us with characters who have trouble seeing beyond the narrow frame of their own lives.
      That wouldn't be us, would it? 

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