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: ‘Carmilla,’ starring Jessica Raine, Tobias Menzies, Greg Wise, Hannah Rae and Devrim Lingnau

July 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Hannah Rae and Devrim Lingnau in “Carmilla” (Photo by Nick Wall/Film Movement)


Directed by Emily Harris

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1780s rural England, the drama “Carmilla” has an nearly all-white cast (with one black person) representing the  wealthy and middle-class.

Culture Clash:  When a mysterious teenager recuperates from a carriage accident in an unfamiliar family’s home, her presence causes conflicts among the widower, his teenage daughter and governess who live there.

Culture Audience: “Carmilla” will appeal primarily to people who like coming-of-age dramas that have arthouse sensibilities.

Jessica Raine and Hannah Rae in “Carmilla” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement))

The haunting period drama “Carmilla” is a perfect example of a movie that does a lot with a little. The film’s cast consists of less than 10 people, and the movie was filmed in just 22 days, according to the “Carmilla” production notes. But “Carmilla” (beautifully written and directed Emily Harris) far surpasses many other movies with considerably larger budgets and casts.

Based on the 1872 Gothic novella “Carmilla” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, this movie adaptation makes a few changes from the source material. The novella was set in 19th century Austria, while the movie takes place in 18th century England—the 1780s, to be exact. Many of the characters in the book are not in the movie. The story’s innocent teenager is named Laura in the book but is named Lara in the movie. And the biggest change in the movie is that it’s not a vampire story, although the erotic and intimate undertones of sharing blood are definitely part of the movie.

It was a bold and ultimately wise choice for writer/director Harris not to make this movie version of “Carmilla” a vampire story. First, it would put this movie in the horror genre, which would distract from the true essence of the story: It’s a meditation about how two teenage girls react to a repressive society when the girls start to have feelings for each other that go beyond friendship.

And secondly, any film about a teenage vampire is going to get inevitable comparisons to the blockbuster “Twilight” movie series, which was a hit with audiences but ridiculed by more artistically minded people, such as movie critics and filmmakers. And there have already been a horror-comedy Web series and a movie based on the “Carmilla” novella.

The “Carmilla” movie from writer/director Harris is imbued with a quiet, deliberate aura that manages to convey the oppressive but physically lush atmosphere where the story is set. It’s an insular world where disobedience and being different, especially if one is of the female gender, are met with cruel punishment. In a rural, isolated manor, 15-year-old Lara (played by Hanna Rae) has a very regimented and sheltered life, but she has the type of curiosity that makes it apparent that she’s feeling stifled.

Lara has an emotionally distant widower father named Mr. Bauer (played by Greg Wise), so the main adult figure in her life is Lara’s strict and very superstitious governess Miss Fontaine (played by Jessica Raine), who is in her 30s and who controls almost every aspect of Lara’s life. When Lara asks questions such as, “Where do spirits go?,” Miss Fontaine tells her about heaven.

There’s a dark side to Lara having Miss Fontaine as a teacher/authority figure. Miss Fontaine, just like many people of that era, believes that being left-handed is a sign of evil. And because Lara is left-handed, Miss Fontaine has inflicted some torturous methods to force Lara not to use her left hand when she’s writing, including hitting Lara’s left hand and making Lara wear her left arm in a tightly bound sling.

Miss Fontaine also physically abuses Lara by hitting her repeatedly as a way of punishing Lara for other reasons. One of these punishments happens when Lara is caught hiding one of her father’s books that has illustrations of people being tortured. Miss Fontaine severely disciplines Lara about the book because the teenager took the book from her father’s study without his permission.

“You and your left hand, playing with the devil,” Miss Fontaine scolds Lara while physically assaulting her. Miss Fontaine also orders Lara to pray to repent for her sins. There are two other servants shown in the Bauer household—a maid named Margaret (played by Lorna Gayle) and a stableman named Paul (played by Daniel Tuite)—but Miss Fontaine is at the top of the household’s employee hierarchy. Margaret and Paul are essentially supporting characters that passively follow orders.

Being an only child with no friends has made Lara a very lonely teenager. She has been anticipating the visit of another teenager named Charlotte, who is the daughter of a family friend. But Charlotte has become very ill, so her visit has been postponed. (Charlotte had planned to stay at the Bauer home for several months.) There’s a scene where Lara, with a melancholy expression on her face, burns a letter that she had written to Charlotte, since it doesn’t make sense to send the letter now that Charlotte is too ill to write back.

The movie also shows how the isolation and physical abuse that Lara is enduring has taken a toll on her mental health. In another scene, Lara is shown waving her left hand over a candle flame, until she deliberately lets the hand linger too long over the flame and she gets a minor burn.

The household gets a jolt from its usual monotony when a teenage girl (played by Devrim Lingnau), who’s around Lara’s age, is unexpectedly brought to the manor. She has been in a carriage accident, where she was the only passenger and the driver has died. The identity of this girl is a complete mystery.

A local physician named Doctor Renquist (played by Tobias Menzies) comes to the manor to examine this enigmatic girl and finds no visible injuries. However, she is mute. Is it because of the trauma of the accident or something else? The decision is made to keep this girl isolated in the house until she is well enough to speak and they can find out who her family is. Miss Tobias orders Lara to stay away from the girl.

Lara can’t understand why she can’t see or talk to this girl. In a private conversation with tells Miss Fontaine, Lara asks if the mystery girl is really Charlotte. Lara tells Miss Fontaine a theory that the girl might be Charlotte who could have miraculously recovered from her illness, and her carriage crashed in a rush to get to the manor.

Miss Fontaine firmly shuts down that theory because she says that if the girl were Charlotte, Lara’s father would have recognized her. This scene adeptly shows how Lara is so desperate for companionship that her imagination has gone wild about who this mystery girl might be. The expression on Miss Fontaine’s face is one of concern and dread.

Of course, the inevitable happens, and Lara visits the forbidden room where the mystery girl is. At first, the girl remains mute. But eventually, she shocks Lara by speaking to her. The girl still won’t say anything about who she is, including her name. Instead, she tells Lara that Lara can think of a name to call her. The mystery girl likes the name Carmilla, so they decide that will be her name.

Carmilla and Lara begin to meet in secret, and they become fast friends. Lara is entranced by Carmilla, who is a lot more worldly and sophisticated than Lara, even though Carmilla still withholds a lot of information about herself. And there’s a growing attraction between Lara and Carmilla that is more than platonic. They play games involving blood vows and breathing/air restriction that have not-so-subtle tones of eroticism, which is expressed when Lara and Carmilla begin kissing and and canoodling with each other.

Miss Fontaine senses that something has changed with Lara, because Lara is at an age when she will be curious about sex. The governess has also noticed how Lara is fascinated with the mystery girl in the home because Lara keeps wanting to talk to Miss Fontaine about the girl.

In a private conversation, Miss Fontaine decides to have a talk with Lara about sexuality without going into uncomfortable details. Miss Fontaine tells Lara that Lara will have certain feelings now that she’s becoming a young woman, but she must learn to control those feelings. The governess also opens up a little about her past (by hinting that she used to be promiscuous), by telling Lara that when she was younger, she got in trouble by acting on those feelings too much.

Miss Fontaine tells Lara that she wished that she knew when she was younger when she was acting on those feelings that all she really wanted was excitement. “Don’t confuse your feelings, Lara,” Miss Fontaine warns. “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”

One of the best aspects of “Carmilla” is that it doesn’t just take the easy route of focusing mainly on the budding relationship between Lara and Carmilla. The movie also masterfully shows how a control-freak like Miss Fontaine isn’t in control of her own life as much as she’d like to pretend that she is. It’s a subtle commentary on the rigid roles that were forced upon women in society back then.

In many ways, this stern governess (who does not seem to have any family or friends) is just as stifled and isolated as Lara—perhaps even more so, because Miss Fontaine’s services in the Bauer household will no longer be needed when Lara becomes an adult. (And in those days, it was common for girls to get married at the age of 15 or 16.) And because Miss Fontaine is a childless spinster, she’s somewhat of an outcast herself in that society. Miss Fontaine has less options than Lara, whose family wealth makes Lara’s future more secure than Miss Fontaine’s.

But, for now, Miss Fontaine sees a lot of her younger self in Lara—and she doesn’t like what she sees. And there’s an unspoken power struggle between Miss Fontaine and Carmilla over Lara’s attention, which motivates certain choices that are made by the end of the story. This movie version of “Camilla” also has more overt messaging than the novella about homophobia and how religion can play a role in mistreating others who are “different.”

“Carmilla” presents a mesmerizing Gothic atmosphere, due in large part to top-notch work from cinematographer Michael Wood, composer Philip Selway, production designer Alexandra Walker (a “Harry Potter” film alum) and Oscar-winning costume designer John Bright (“A Room With a View”). Selway, who’s the drummer for Radiohead, has his original, appropriately haunting song “Ghosts” playing during the end credits. All three actresses in the “Carmilla” power struggle—Raine as Miss Fontaine, Lingnau (who makes her feature-film debut in “Carmilla”) as Carmilla and Rae as Lara—do a superb job in their roles.

Writer/director Harris should be commended for making “Carmilla” a movie worth seeing for anyone who likes to immerse themselves in a world that can be gorgeous to look at but menacing at the same time. People who want to see an exact replication of the original “Carmilla” novella might be disappointed. However, today’s movie audiences have certain over-the-top bloody expectations for vampire films that would not have served this movie well. Thankfully, the filmmakers of this “Carmilla” movie did not take that predictable route, which would have cheapened the message of this movie.

Film Movement released “Carmilla” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on July 17, 2020.

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