Review: ‘You Hurt My Feelings’ (2023), starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, Owen Teague and Jeannie Berlin

May 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “You Hurt My Feelings” (Photo by Jeong Park/A24)

“You Hurt My Feelings” (2023)

Directed by Nicole Holofcener

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy film “You Hurt My Feelings” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An insecure book author gets deeply upset when she finds out that her psychotherapist husband has been pretending to like her first novel, and this revelation leads her to question his honesty in the marriage.

Culture Audience: “You Hurt My Feelings” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, filmmaker Nicole Holofcener and satire-tinged comedies where people make a big deal out of problems that are very trivial in the real world.

Arian Moayed and Michaela Watkins in “You Hurt My Feelings” (Photo by Jeong Park/A24)

If you’re a fan of comedies that poke gentle fun at somewhat spoiled protagonists, then “You Hurt My Feelings” (written and directed by Nicole Holofcener) is the type of movie that perfectly fits this description. It’s a low-key and realistic comedy about people who live in the bubble of being privileged and neurotic New Yorkers. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is an actress queen for this type of character. This movie isn’t for everyone, but the performances are entertaining. “You Hurt My Feelings” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

In “You Hurt My Feelings” (which takes place in New York City), Louis-Dreyfus portrays Beth Mitchell, an insecure book author who is constantly seeking validation from people around her. The person whose opinions and respect that Beth values the most is her husband Don Mitchell (played by Tobias Menzies), who is an easygoing psychotherapist. Don is very laid-back and tolerant, while Beth is uptight and judgmental. Even though Beth and Don have opposite personalities, they’ve had a very long and happy marriage.

At least that’s what Beth thinks, until she finds out something that shakes her to the core: Don has been pretending to like the book that Beth is currently working on: her first novel, which is also her second book. Don is one of the few people whom Beth has let read the manuscript for this novel. She’s already feeling insecure because her first book (a memoir detailing the verbal abuse she got from her now-deceased father) was not the bestseller that Beth hoped it would be. The memoir wasn’t a total flop, but it had sales that were lukewarm.

Adding to Beth’s unease about her first novel is the less-than-enthusiastic response from her book agent. Not long before Beth found out that Don doesn’t like the manuscript, her agent Sylvia (played by LaTanya Richardson Jackson) told Beth during a lunch meeting that Sylvia doesn’t really like the manuscript either and thinks it’s not as interesting as Beth’s memoir. Sylvia commented to Beth in this meeting that there’s a lot of competition in the book publishing industry, which is always looking for “new voices.” Beth interprets this comment as Sylvia telling Beth that she’s old.

Why is Beth so insecure? It’s mentioned about midway through the movie that her father did a lot of emotional damage to her with his verbal abuse. He often called her “shit for brains” when Beth was a child. It’s a phrase that Beth says out loud to herself when she’s having moments of very low self-esteem.

Beth’s world is fairly insular, since most of the people she interacts with are family members and work colleagues. She teaches a creative writing class to people who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Beth encourages her students to take risks in their work. It’s advice that Beth doesn’t always follow for herself. The movie later shows how Beth can be hypocritical in other ways.

Beth has a younger sister named Sarah (played Michaela Watkins), an interior designer who’s battling her own insecurities about her career. Sarah is married to a frequently unemployed actor named Mark (played by Arian Moayed), who’s frustrated that he hasn’t been able to land starring roles and get work more often. Mark also happens to be Don’s best friend. (People from Don’s side of the family are never mentioned in the movie.) Beth and Sarah have a cranky and forgetful mother named Georgia (played by Jeannie Berlin), who might be showing signs of early onset dementia.

Don and Beth’s only child is a 23-year-old son named Eliot (played by Owen Teague), who works at a marijuana dispensary. Even though Beth occasionally smokes marijuana, she tells Eliot that she’s uncomfortable with his job, because she thinks there’s potential for danger on the job, and she thinks that college graduate Eliot (who is an aspiring playwright) isn’t living up to his potential. Beth thinks it’s also why Eliot’s girlfriend Alison (who’s never seen in the movie), an aspiring lawyer, seems to be drifting away from Eliot.

“You Hurt My Feelings” is made like a compilation of scenarios that show different personal angles of Beth and her loved ones. Beth finds out about Don’s true feelings for her manuscript when she and Sarah spontaneously eavesdrop on Don and Mark in a sporting goods store. The way that Beth reacts is as if Don betrayed her in the most hurtful manner possible. Beth begins to wonder if she even she even knows Don at all.

The movie goes back and forth between showing Beth’s interactions with people, as well as the therapy sessions that Don (a doctor with his own practice) has with some of his clients. These therapy sessions seem to be in the movie to show how Don approaches problem-solving in his clients’ personal relationships, compared to problem-solving in his own personal relationships.

The movie’s opening scene shows Don in a therapy session with a bickering married couple named Jonathan (played by David Cross) and Carolyn (played by Amber Tamblyn), who say hateful things to each other. (Cross and Tamblyn are spouses in real life.) Don passively sits and listens, even though Jonathan and Carolyn clearly want the type of therapist who will give them advice on what to do about their marriage. And as time goes on, viewers see that Don’s non-confrontational style can be a detriment in his own marriage.

An early scene in “You Hate My Feelings” shows a wedding anniversary dinner that Beth and Don are having together at a restaurant. Don gives Beth a pair of gold leaf earrings as his anniversary gift. Beth gives Don a black V-necked shirt. They both smile and seem happy with these gifts during this romantic dinner. Later in the movie, it’s shown that these gifts are symbols of much deeper issues in Beth and Don’s relationship.

Louis-Dreyfus is the obvious standout in a movie where her Beth character is the main focus of the story. However, Watkins and Berlin also give terrific performances that skillfully balance realism with talented comedic timing. Menzies plays his part well as a somewhat bland but loyal husband, while the other cast members are part of the overall believability in their roles, which could easily have been played as caricatures.

Of course, many viewers won’t feel too sorry for Beth, because she has the type of comfortable life that many people would like to have: She’s healthy. She’s surrounded by people who love her. And she doesn’t have to worry about basic needs, such as food or shelter.

But truth be told, a lot of privileged people who have charmed existences in real life can’t see beyond their own trivial problems because they really have no reason or motivation to do so. The closest that Beth wants to acknowledge any type of “real world” suffering is volunteering with Sarah at a charity that gives away free clothes to underprivileged people. If Beth’s worst problem is finding out that her husband doesn’t like her latest book, then that’s a pretty good life to have.

The movie admits it at one point when Don comments to Beth about how she’s reacting to him not liking her novel: “The whole world is falling apart, and this is what consumes you?” Beth replies, “I know the whole world is falling apart … but this is my small, narcissistic world, and I’m hurt.” For all the neuroses and self-absorption on display, a movie like “You Hurt My Feelings” serves as a reminder that people who seem to “have it all” can still find reasons to be miserable if they’re not completely happy with themselves.

A24 released “You Hurt My Feelings” in U.S. cinemas on May 26, 2023.

Review: ‘The Fabelmans,’ starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel LaBelle and Judd Hirsch

November 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Keeley Karsten, Julia Butters and Sophia Kopera in “The Fabelmans” (Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures)

“The Fabelmans”

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1952 to 1965, in New Jersey, Arizona, and California, the dramatic film “The Fabelmans” (inspired by director Steven Spielberg’s own youth) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Sammy Fabelman’s parents have contrasting opinions about his childhood dream to become a movie director, and his home life becomes turbulent when he finds out an emotionally painful secret. 

Culture Audience: “The Fabelmans” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Spielberg and anyone interested in coming-of-age stories about famous filmmakers.

Gabriel LaBelle in “The Fabelmans” (Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures)

Steven Spielberg tells a very personal story of his youth in “The Fabelmans,” a drama that’s a partial biopic and a therapeutic life analysis. The movie’s overly long run time drags it down, but Michelle Williams gives a transcendent performance as the mother of the fictional version of Spielberg. “The Fabelmans” (which clocks in at 151 minutes) is yet another story about a young person who ends up going to Hollywood to pursue a dream. But in this case, the young person turned out to be the Oscar-winning Spielberg, who is frequently lauded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

Spielberg directed “The Fabelmans” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Tony Kushner. Spielberg and Kushner previously collaborated on the 2021 remake of “West Side Story,” 2012’s “Lincoln” and 2005’s “Munich.” Spielberg has made a wide variety of films, but many of his movies—especially the ones having to do with outer-space creatures, such as 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” 1982’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and 2005’s “War of the Worlds” remake—have a few themes in common, such as people dealing with fractured families and/or families in conflict because one person in the family is determined to pursue a particular goal against tremendous odds. In “The Fabelmans,” there are no outer-space creatures, but protagonist Sammy Fabelman (a fictional character based on the real-life Spielberg) often feels like he’s a proverbial alien in his own family.

“The Fabelmans” begins in New Jersey, on January 10, 1952. Sammy is 5 years old (played by Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord), and his parents have taken him to the movies to see director Cecil B. DeMille’s circus drama “The Greatest Show on Earth,” starring Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame and James Stewart. Before they go into the move theater, Sammy’s mother Mitzi Fabelman (played by Williams) and Sammy’s father Burt Fabelman (played by Paul Dano) assure a fearful Sammy that the people who will look like giants on the big screen are just images from the movie. Sammy doesn’t know it yet, but seeing this movie will change his life.

This moviegoing scene in “The Fabelmans” also establishes from the beginning how Mitzi and Burt have two different parenting styles and contrasting outlooks on life. Burt, who is a computer engineer, tries to explain to Sammy the technical aspects of how a movie projector beams images on the screen and how a human brain processes those images. Mitzi, who is an on-again/off-again professional pianist for radio, explains movies to Sammy this way: “They’re like dreams.” In other words, Burt views life like a scientist, while Mitzi views life like an artist.

It’s later mentioned in the movie that young Sammy has anxiety and is prone to panic attacks. But since he’s a child in the 1950s, when people usually didn’t seek psychiatric care for this medical condition, Sammy doesn’t get therapy in his childhood for his anxiety. The person in his family who is most likely to calm him down is his mother Mitzi, who has mental health struggles of her own. She is the person in the family who is most likely to understand Sammy.

Sitting between his parents while watching “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Sammy is in awe and slightly afraid of what he’s seeing on the big screen. He is particularly impacted by the movie’s train-wreck scene. In this scene, a criminal who has just robbed a circus train, which is stopped on the tracks, drives his car onto the tracks to frantically stop another circus train traveling right behind the first train. His plan doesn’t work, and the second train plows into his car and the first train, causing death and some of the wild circus animals to escape.

After Sammy gets home, his parents notice that he’s become obsessed with trains. As a Hanukkah gift, Sammy’s father gives him a train set. The other members of the Fabelman household are Sammy’s younger sisters Reggie Fabelman (played by Birdie Borria) and Natalie Fabelman (played by Alina Brace).

It isn’t long before Sammy is recreating the train wreck that he saw in “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Burt gets angry because he thinks Sammy isn’t respecting the toy train and is trying to ruin it, so he temporarily takes the train set away from Sammy as punishment. He orders Sammy not to simulate a train wreck when he plays with the toy train.

“I need to see them crash,” Sammy tells his parents to explain why he likes making the train crash into a toy car. Mitzi understands why Sammy has a fascination with creating a train wreck and explains it to Burt that it’s because Sammy wants control over the train. Burt doesn’t care to understand and just thinks Sammy is being a spoiled brat.

One night, after Sammy has gotten his toy train back, Mitzi takes him into the room where the train set is. She tells Sammy that he can crash the train one more time, but they will secretly use Burt’s film camera to film everything, so Sammy can watch the train wreck over and over without actually crashing the train. Mitzi tells Sammy that this film will be their little secret.

Of course, this film is the start of Sammy’s lifelong passion to become a filmmaker. By the following year, in 1953, the Fabelmans have a new addition to the family: a baby named Lisa. Burt gets a job working as a manager at General Electric (GE) in Phoenix, Arizona. Mitzi is supportive of the move, as long as Burt can get his best friend/co-worker Bennie Loewy (played by Seth Rogen) a job at GE too. It’s mentioned several times in the movie that Burt is an exceptional engineer and a computer visionary, while Bennie is an average employee who owes much of his career to getting help from Burt.

The Fabelman kids often call Burt’s best friend Uncle Bennie, even though Bennie isn’t biologically related to them. During a Fabelman family dinner, observant viewers will notice other dynamics in Bennie’s relationship to the Fabelmans. Bennie is a friendly jokester who likes to play harmless pranks and make people laugh, especially Mitzi.

Burt’s outspoken, widowed mother Hadassah Fabelman (played by Jeannie Berlin), who is a frequent visitor in the household, isn’t too fond of Bennie. Hadassah notices how Bennie and Mitzi have a playful banter with each other. Mitzi’s widowed mother Tina Schildkraut (played by Robin Bartlett), who is much more laid-back than Hadassah, doesn’t talk much and only has a few scenes in the movie.

Burt is mild-mannered, nerdy and slow to pick up on body language and social cues to figure out how people are really feeling. He’s a classic introvert who is more likely to consider facts when making a decision. Mitzi is impulsive, moody and very attuned to people’s unsaid thoughts. Mitzi is a classic extrovert, who is more likely to consider feelings when making a decision. Burt prefers to avoid confrontations. Mitzi isn’t afraid of confrontations and will often cause them.

It’s also implied that Mitzi has an undiagnosed mental illness, which is presented in “The Fabelmans” as looking a lot like bipolar disorder. In a scene that takes place in 1953, before the family moves from New Jersey to Arizona, a tornado strikes the area where the Fabelmans live. Instead of wanting to stay safe in their house or a secure shelter, like most people would, Mitzi spontaneously decides to take Sammy, Natalie and Reggie with her in the family car to drive toward the tornado so that they can get a closer look at it. (Mitzi at least has the sense to leave baby Lisa behind with Burt.)

Mitzi makes this decision so quickly, Burt doesn’t have time to stop her, and his protests are ignored. The kids are too young to understand that Mitzi could be putting them in danger, because she acts like this is a fun joy ride. As they get closer to the tornado and the rain storm gets worse, Mitzi stops the car, and the reality sinks in that this isn’t an adventure trip after all. She begins to cry but still pretends to the children that everything is just fine as she dejectedly drives home. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see that this incident looks like a manic episode from a person with bipolar disorder.

It’s no secret that in real life, Spielberg’s parents got divorced when he was a teenager. Spielberg has also been open about the reason why they got divorced. He talked about it in director Susan Lacy’s 2017 documentary “Spielberg,” as well as in some interviews that he’s given over the years. But the reason why is parents got divorced will be a surprise to many people who watch “The Fabelmans” for the first time, so those details won’t be revealed in this review.

However, it’s enough to say that by the time the family moves to Phoenix, the cracks in the marriage are already starting to show. “The Fabelmans” then fast-forwards to the family’s life in Arizona during the early-to-mid-1960s. Sammy is now a blossoming teenage filmmaker (played by Gabriel LaBelle), who makes short films (mostly Westerns) with his schoolmates and members of his Boy Scout troop. Sammy gets a lot of praise and admiration from most people around him for his filmmaking. Bennie is in Arizona too, working at GE with Burt and often accompanying the Fabelmans on family gatherings.

After some initial skepticism, Sammy’s father Burt eventually becomes impressed with Sammy’s talent for filmmaking, but Burt is not entirely convinced that filmmaking is a good career choice for Sammy. He often tells Sammy to pursue a more “practical” profession. Burt also keeps calling Sammy’s filmmaking a “hobby,” and Sammy is offended by Burt not taking Sammy’s filmmaking seriously as a future career. By contrast, Mitzi is Sammy’s first and biggest filmmaking fan, and she never wavers or has doubts in encouraging Sammy to become a filmmaker.

Reggie (played by Julia Butters), who’s about two or three years younger than Sammy, is intelligent, assertive and opinionated. She’s also the sister who has the closest emotional bond to Sammy, and he values her opinion. (Reggie is based on Spielberg’s real-sister Anne, who became a screenwriter.) For example, while Steven is editing his short films, he sometimes shows Nancy early cuts of the films and asks her what she thinks.

Natalie (played by Keeley Karsten), who’s about four years younger than Sammy, is a polite and obedient kid. She’s based on Steven Spielberg’s middle sister Sue, who’s actually seven years younger than he is. Sammy’s youngest sister Lisa (played by Sophia Kopera), who’s six years younger than Sammy, doesn’t have much of a personality in the movie at all. (Lisa is based on Steven Spielberg’s youngest sister Nancy, who’s actually 10 years younger than he is.)

With the Fabelman kids at an age where they are all now in school, Mitzi begins to take up professional piano playing for radio again. The family members (with Bennie) often gather in their living room to watch Mitzi practice. Burt is reluctant to give any criticism to Mitzi, while Bennie is more forthright and isn’t afraid to tell Mitzi what he thinks.

There’s a telling scene where Mitzi’s long fingernails cause a clacking noise when she plays the piano. Burt denies there’s anything wrong with that, but Bennie says it’s going to be a problem for radio listeners to hear this clacking noise during Mitzi’s piano playing. Mitzi takes pride in her long, well-manicured fingernails and doesn’t want to cut them. She eventually relents when Bennie and some of the kids playfully tackle her, and Bennie cuts her nails.

One of the most memorable sequences in “The Fabelmans” is a fateful camping trip that the family takes while living in Arizona. Everything is going well. Everyone seems to be happy. Sammy is filming everything that he can during this trip.

One night during a campfire, Mitzi spontaneously decides to do a ballet dance in front of Burt, Bennie, Sammy and Reggie while she’s wearing a thin-fabric nightgown. Sammy is filming it, of course. In order to get better lighting, Bennie turns on the headlights of a car parked nearby. The bright lights essentially cause Mitzi’s nightgown to become see-through, and it’s obviously she’s completely naked underneath the gown.

Reggie is mortified, and she runs up to her mother to tell her discreetly that everyone can see through Mitzi’s nightgown. Mitzi ignores her and keeps dancing, while Reggie pleads for her mother to stop. Mitzi keeps dancing, while an annoyed Reggie runs away and says that everyone there is crazy.

Mitzi’s only audience is now Bennie, Burt and Sammy, who keeps the camera focused on Mitzi. All of them are looking at Mitzi, almost as if they’re in a trance. Their fascination with her is for different reasons, which can all be seen on the expressions on their faces. Sammy being in awe isn’t incestuous, although it does come across as a little creepy that he’s staring at his mother’s nearly naked body.

This scene shows that Sammy is so enthralled with his filmmaking and what he’s getting on camera, it’s almost as if he forgot that the woman in the see-through gown in front of him is his own mother. When Mitzi ends the dance, she looks at everyone staring at her with a expression of satisfaction but also a tinge of sadness. Later, when the family looks at the footage, Mitzi praises Sammy by telling him, “You really see me.”

Another pivotal sequence in “The Fabelmans” happens when Mitzi’s uncle Boris (played by Judd Hirsch) shows up at the Fabelmans’ home in Phoenix for a surprise visit. This visit happens after Mitzi had a nightmarish dream that her mother Tina (Boris’ sister) called Mitzi to warn her that something was coming. According to Mitzi, Boris used to bully Tina when Tina was a child, and Mitzi grew up in fear of him too. And so, when Boris arrives at the home, Mitzi greets him with a lot of apprehension, but she eventually relaxes when she sees that Boris is nice to her and her family.

Boris, who is now an elderly man, spent much of his life as a lion trainer in the circus. He has a personality that is eccentric and “in your face.” He’s a raconteur who likes to tell stories about himself, and he has a voice that compels people to pay attention to him. In other words, it’s impossible to ignore Boris when he’s in a room.

When Boris finds out that Sammy is an aspiring filmmaker, he begins to give Sammy advice on what to expect in life if Sammy wants to be an artist. Sammy doesn’t see the connection between being an artist and a circus lion trainer, until Boris explains that there’s no art in putting your head in a lion, but there’s an art in keeping the lion from biting your head while in a lion’s mouth.

Boris warns Sammy that artists will have always have a tug of war between art and family. He also tells Sammy that being an artist also means often being very lonely. Sammy is both awed and intimidated by Boris, especially after Boris puts Sammy in headlock in an awkward way to show Sammy to remember that physical pain every time Sammy has to suffer as an artist.

The last third of “The Fabelmans” could have been its own movie because of all the things that happen. In this part of the film, the Fabelmans move once again—this time to California’s Santa Clara County, because Burt has gotten a major job offer to work for IBM. Mitzi and Sammy (who is in his last year of high school) are very unhappy with this move, and the family starts to crumble over various things. Unlike their life in Arizona, where they lived near several other Jewish families, the Fabelmans are the only Jewish family in their California neighborhood.

At school, Sammy is a misfit loner who gets bullied by the school’s star athletes, led by a conceited pretty boy named Logan Hall (played by Sam Rechner), who is also in his last year of high school. Logan has a weaselly sidekick named Chad Thomas (played by Oakes Fegley), who openly hates Jewish people. Sammy experiences some cruel antisemitism from Chad, Logan and other students who stand by and laugh when Sammy gets bullied for being Jewish.

Sammy also gets caught up in some drama between Logan’s girlfriend Claudia Denning (played by Isabelle Kusman) and Logan. It leads to Sammy getting to closer to Claudia and Claudia’s best friend Monica Sherwood (played by Chloe East), who is a self-described Jesus freak. Monica is fascinated by Sammy being Jewish, so her interest in him is a combination of teenage lust and a desire to turn him on to Christianity.

The last third of “The Fabelmans” is the best part of the movie, but it’s also the messiest. It mostly chronicles Sammy’s last year in high school in California, and it offers a glimpse into his life after high school. (Real-life filmmaker David Lynch has a noteworthy cameo as legendary filmmaker John Ford.) Sammy’s life after high school and during college is so truncated, it’s obvious to viewers that a significant part of the story is missing, to the detriment of the movie, which is already too long. In other words, this story should have been a miniseries, not a feature-length film.

However, there’s no denying that “The Fabelmans” does a stellar job of depicting Sammy coming to terms with the fantasies that he escapes to in filmmaking and the harsh realities of life. The movie also skillfully shows that the two most impactful relationships that Sammy had in his youth are Sammy’s relationship with filmmaking and Sammy’s relationship with his mother. The reasons for the family unraveling are heartbreaking but very realistic.

And it’s why Williams is such a standout in a very talented cast. Her portrayal of Mitzi is far from stereotypical and shows many depths and layers to this complicated person. Mitzi has wonderful qualities as well as damaging flaws. Williams makes this character a full, authentic human being, not just someone reciting lines and emoting on screen.

The other principal cast members do well in their roles. Dano is convincing in playing a character who represses a lot of emotions and denies a lot of problems until it’s too late. LaBelle also turns in an admirable performance, considering it’s not easy for any actor to know that he’s playing a young version of Steven Spielberg. Rogen is perfectly fine as family friend Bennie, but this character doesn’t have a lot of screen time, and Rogen (who’s mostly known as a comedic actor) has had better roles to show his dramatic abilities.

“The Fabelmans” is a specific story but it’s also universal to anyone who can relate to pursuing dreams, even when people doubt that certain goals can be accomplished. The movie’s tone has a middle-class American sheen to it that will get some criticism for glossing over a lot of American society problems in the 1950s and 1960s that still exist today. Antisemitism is part of the story, but racism, sexism, poverty and other social ills are completely erased in this movie.

This omission of any of society’s problems outside of Sammy’s limited world in the 1950s and 1960s speaks to how his young life had its share of turmoil, but it was still in a certain “bubble” where he was blissfully unaware or chose to ignore a lot of society’s problems that weren’t about him. It’s a blind spot that many people carry throughout their lives, but “The Fabelmans” offers no real or meaningful introspection about that blind spot.

“The Fabelmans” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie won the People’s Choice Award, which is the festival’s top prize. Even with any accolades that this movie receives, when people look back on Steven Spielberg’s most beloved films, “The Fabelmans” won’t be at the top of the list for most people. However long-winded this movie can be, it still showcases Spielberg’s talent for telling emotionally genuine stories about families, as well as expressing why people fall in love with filmmaking.

Universal Pictures released “The Fabelmans” in select U.S. cinemas on November 11, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Here After’ (2021), starring Andy Karl, Nora Arnezeder and Christina Ricci

August 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Christina Ricci and Andy Karl in “Here After” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Here After” (2021)

Directed by Harry Greenberger

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the romantic drama “Here After” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A dead bachelor is stuck in a purgatory-like existence and is told that he won’t get into heaven unless he can find and get together with his soul mate. 

Culture Audience: “Here After” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dumb, badly written romantic comedies that have an offensive and ridiculous concept that people’s lives aren’t worthwhile unless they end up with a soul mate.

Nora Arnezeder and Andy Karl in “Here After” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

There are enough bad romantic movies built on the lie that people are worthless unless they’re with a soul mate. The odious “Here After” is even more pathetic because of its concept that people without soul mates can’t go to heaven. If you can tolerate this garbage idea being played out to annoying levels for two hours—which is way too long for a movie that has such a weak story and shoddy filmmaking—then be prepared to sink into the cloying and contrived muck of “Here After.”

Written and directed by Harry Greenberger, “Here After” was previously titled “Faraway Eyes.” The movie’s original title presumably was inspired by a line in the film where one of the characters gives a corny compliment by telling another character that this person has “faraway eyes.” The only thing that’s “far away” when it comes to this movie is anything to do with quality filmmaking.

“Here After” begins with the death of a New York City-based actor named Michael (played by Andy Karl), a bachelor in his 40s. He’s dead because while driving his car on a highway, he stopped the car to reach on his car floor to get a quarter to pay for a toll fare, and he got hit by a truck. And now, the first thing that viewers see in “Here After” is Michael’s bloodied face, as he lies face-up on a mystical gurney, as he spews a rambling monologue about his life.

You know a movie is going to be excruciating to watch when the first line is Michael saying, “Once bread becomes toast, it can never become bread again.” The filmmakers think viewers of this movie are so stupid that somehow people are supposed to believe that toasted bread isn’t bread anymore. Brace yourself for more cringeworthy nonsense because this movie is full of it.

Michael then goes on to describe a sexual encounter when he was 16, with an older redhead named Stephanie. He talks about how his younger sister walked in and saw that Michael was tied to the bed during this encounter. And he was even more embarrassed when his sister told his parents.

What does this story have to do with the rest of this movie? Absolutely nothing. It’s just an example of random things dumped in this movie’s screenplay to try to make the movie look “edgy” and “titillating.” In actuality, “Here After” is filled with tiresome cliché after timesome cliché found in movies about lonely bachelors looking for love.

Michael is transported to a high-rise office that has a bright white glow. All of the injuries that he got from his fatal car accident have now disappeared. It’s in this mysterious office that he meets business-suit-wearing Scarlett (played by Christina Ricci), who tells Michael that he’s dead, and then she proceeds to interview him. Scarlett asks Michael what his last memory was before he died.

This question leads to Michael talking about his most recent breakup. He and his live-in girlfriend Amy (played by Florencia Lozano) were at an airport waiting area to get on a flight for a romantic vacation. But instead of getting on the plane together, Amy (who’s crying and very drunk) decides to break up with Michael.

Amy has had drunken break-ups with Michael before, but this time she means it. Michael sees no point in taking the trip, so he leaves the airport. While driving on the highway, he gets hit by a truck in the accident that killed him.

Scarlett tells Michael, “You’re dead. There are some loose ends … You died single. That left your soul incomplete. Souls cross over in pairs—and only in pairs. You have to find a soul mate.”

And so, most of the movie is about Michael being stuck in a spiritual limbo on Earth, as he looks for his soul mate among all the other spirits who are wandering on Earth. Other dead people in ghost form who are in his same situation make varying degrees of effort to find their soul mates. Some are anxious about it, while others don’t seem to care at all.

Because he’s a ghost, Michael has the ability to travel anywhere on Earth to find his soul mate. But he sticks to the places he knew best when he was alive and looking to meet women: bars and strip clubs in New York City. In other words, this movie didn’t have the budget to film in several other cities.

People who are still alive aren’t supposed to be able to see or communicate with these ghosts, but the ghosts can see people who are still alive. In this purgatory-like existence, the ghosts can move objects, but the ghosts cannot experience material things like they could when they are alive, except for drinking alcohol. They can drink as much alcohol as they want but can’t get drunk. For example, ghosts cannot taste food or use phones to call people who are still alive. If a TV is on in a room, the ghosts only see a blank screen.

According to Scarlett, during this search for a soul mate, sex is not allowed or not possible, because she says the love between soul mates is supposed to be “pure,” and lust can cloud people’s judgment of who’s the correct soul mate. It’s an oddly puritanical part of the movie, considering that this film has nudity and crude sexual talk. Maybe it’s just an excuse for the film not to show ghosts having sex with each other, because even that might be too crazy for this morbid movie that’s about a dead man who falls in love with someone after he dies.

Scarlett randomly shows up from time to time to check on Michael’s progress while he’s on this quest for a soul mate. She says ominous things to warn him that his time is running out, such as what will happen if he doesn’t find a soul mate: “You cease to exist, and the world goes on without you.” Later in the movie, Michael knows his time is running out because he sees his body start to flicker, like a light bulb that’s about to burn out and go dead.

Michael has some boring and uninteresting encounters with female ghosts at some of the nightspots that he visits to try to find his soul mate. One of these women is named Susan (played by Jackie Cruz), who also died in a car accident. Her reaction to Michael is similar to the reactions of almost every woman whom Michael awkwardly approaches: They’re not interested or completely turned off by him.

Michael also goes to his apartment and looks on as his parents (Ray Iannicelli and Jeannie Berlin) and sister Abby (played by Heidi Germaine Schnappauf) go through his possessions to decide which ones to keep and which ones will get thrown out or given away. Michael says out loud, even though no one else can hear him: “I can’t believe I missed my own funeral!”

However, Michael gets some insight into how his family felt about him, as he eavesdrops on their conversation. Michael’s mother expresses disappointment that Michael never fulfilled his dream of being a famous actor. Meanwhile, Michael’s father says that he’s satisfied with how Michael’s life turned out, because all he wanted as a parent was for Michael to be a kind person and true to himself.

At the time of his death, Michael had been set to star in a one-man play (which he also wrote), but he never got the chance to debut the play to the public because he died. However, Michael gets a rude awakening when, as a ghost, he sees that the play’s producer Jay (played by Richard Topol) wants to re-cast the show as soon as it would be appropriate, in order for Jay to not lose his investment. Michael is shocked and insulted because he thought that the play would be shelved, out of respect for his death. It’s an indication of Michael’s naïvety about show business.

The play is the least of Michael’s problems, because he wants to find a soul mate before he becomes someone who will “cease to exist.” So what’s a bachelor ghost who’s unlucky in love to do? Michael visits the apartment of his dead best friend Angelo (played by Michael Rispoli), to see if Angelo is a ghost in the same situation. And what do you know, Angelo is. Unlike neurotic Michael, Angelo isn’t at all concerned about finding a soul mate. Angelo just wants to hang out at his apartment and drink alcohol.

And here’s where the stereotypes really kick in for a movie about a lovelorn bachelor: He has a best friend who’s crude and extremely cynical about love. Angelo checks all the predictable boxes for this type of vulgar character. This is what Angelo has to say about his sexuality as a ghost: “Jerking off is like driving in neutral—ghost dick.”

But there’s an extra layer of creepiness to Angelo because he takes advantage of being a ghost by spying on naked women in gym locker rooms. (And yes, it’s shown in the movie.) Michael has a conversation with Angelo during one of these sleazy voyeur sessions and acts like it’s okay for his best friend to be a Peeping Tom.

The clichés go into overdrive when Michael goes to a bar and meets someone who will be his obvious love interest. She’s a French immigrant, and her name is Honey Bee (played by Nora Arnezeder), which she says is her real name. Michael and Honey Bee start off their “meet cute” moment with some sarcastic banter back and forth.

She tells Michael that she’s an aspiring photographer who makes money as an office worker and a dog walker to pay her bills. She’s at the bar because she’s waiting to meet a friend named Faith (played by Nikki M. James), who’s running late. Romantic sparks fly between Honey Bee and Michael.

But there’s one big problem: Honey Bee is still alive, and Michael can only get out of purgatory with a soul mate who has died. Why is it that Honey Bee can see and talk to Michael? Because she’s psychic and she can see dead people. Somewhere, Haley Joel Osment from “The Sixth Sense” is laughing.

Honey Bee is not just a psychic. She’s also a stereotypical Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the label for a story’s quirky young woman whose sole purpose is to be the love interest of a lonely, usually sad-for-some-reason guy. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s offbeat charm is supposed to cheer up the guy, and they fall in love. “Here After” follows this trope in such unoriginal ways, they might as well have given Honey Bee the name Manic Pixie instead.

“Here After” also uses the tedious cliché of pairing a male protagonist who’s older than 40 with a love interest who’s at least 15 years younger. It’s as if the filmmakers think that charismatic and fun-loving women over the age of 40 simply cannot be interesting to men in that same age demographic. When actresses over the age of 40 talk about being shut out of love interest roles by (usually male) filmmakers who think they’re too old, “Here After” is an example of that problem.

The movie throws in a dreadfully written #MeToo subplot of Honey Bee getting stalked by her former boss Patrick (played by Alex Hurt), an arrogant jerk who sexually harassed her when she worked for him as his assistant. She quit that job because she couldn’t take his degrading treatment any longer. Patrick is obsessed with wanting Honey Bee to be his girlfriend. It just checks off another cliché: the “love triangle,” with the third person (who’s usually very jealous) intent on ruining the potential romance between the protagonist and the protagonist’s love interest.

The movie gets much worse as it goes on. And because it telegraphs so early that the only way that Michael can “get to the other side” is if he has a soul mate who is also dead, viewers can easily predict what will happen. How this movie’s “love triangle” is resolved is truly vile. The “Here After” filmmakers obviously think this is a romantic movie, but the way that death is used for tacky plot developments shows how tone-deaf and trashy this movie really is.

It’s too bad that such a talented cast is stuck in this crappy movie. Karl is best known as a Broadway star, but being in “Here After” is not going to increase his chances of getting leading-man roles in quality films. It doesn’t help that Michael has the personality of a slug, and he has to utter awful lines like: “Jesus, Mary and Johnny Weissmuller! What do I have to do to get out of this town?”

Ricci is the most well-known cast member in “Here After.” She’s a very accomplished actress who deserves better than to be in this horrible film. Luckily for her, her total screen time is less than 15 minutes.

As for Arnezeder, she’s stuck playing a “damsel in distress” type who’s afraid to stand up to her stalker because she doesn’t want him to think that she’s rude. Michael has to teach Honey Bee how to be brave when she has to deal with Patrick. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

“Here After” seems to want to be a romantic classic like 1990’s “Ghost.” But “Here After” is so dreadful, that it gets all of the elements of romance wrong and makes some very misogynistic choices. The character of Michael isn’t the only thing that’s dead in “Here After.” This movie’s entire idiotic concept was dead on arrival.

Vertical Entertainment released “Here After” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on July 23, 2021.

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