You Hurt My Feelings Questions When Lying is Acceptable

Beth sitting on a bench in a dimly lit room in movie You Hurt My Feelings
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Is honesty the best policy? In Seinfeld and Marvel star Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ new movie, You Hurt My Feelings, viewers are forced to consider whether it’s best to be honest, despite the consequences, or if the white lies we frequently tell are acceptable and worth it to protect our loved ones.

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener and co-starring Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Owen Teague, and David Cross, the film follows a married couple whose relationship gains more depth and inspires the audience to question whether being honest, especially with one’s spouse or family member, is truly the right approach.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, the comedy-drama features novelist Beth Mitchell who has just finished her second book after gaining (some) success with her memoir, though she jokes that if her writing was darker it would have become a bestseller. Now she’s on a quest to write her next book, but is met with self doubt and fear. She conveys her concerns about being irrelevant compared to emerging writers to her husband, Don, who remains a supportive spouse. In fact, Don is the epitome of a “perfect husband” in that he reads and re-reads her drafts even when no one from Beth’s writing class has read a single word of her memoir, offers her advice, and encouragement to appease her reservations. 

“I’m an old voice,” she confides in him one night, to which he sweetly responds, “You’re the best voice.” In another scene he reassures her, “Your memoir is great, your new book is great” and even gives her pep talks whenever she needs them.

Despite these exchanges, Beth is shocked when she overhears Don’s true reaction to her latest writing venture. Spoiler alert: he secretly hates it and questions whether it will gain any traction in the marketplace. 

This particular scene sets off the tone for the rest of the film. In a refreshing manner, You Hurt My Feelings takes a slice of a couple’s life, including the boring day to day issues, and still successfully demonstrates the realistic love that keeps people together. 

In one scene, when it’s obvious that Beth is angry and hurt by Don’s actual feelings about her writing, he noted that the world is falling apart and yet she is obsessed by his words. This particular scene begs the question of how deep of an impact someone else’s words can have on our psyches and how we can become fixated on this instead of the reality of our surroundings. Further, the couple’s son Eliot has been attempting his first play since college, but instead has a mundane job at a weed store. When he breaks up with his girlfriend and spends more time with his family, the audience notices his resentment towards his mother for all the overpraising she has offered him. 

“Mom, you’re always expecting the best from me,” he says in a passionate fight to which Beth confusingly responds, “You’re welcome?”

What’s most admirable about the film is that there is no cliche plot or dramatic set of events that inspires the self reflection. But, as viewers we are forced to think about whether lying to be encouraging is equivalent to real love or whether it’s feeding into someone’s false sense of reality. Though it’s ultimately up to each individual to interpret what the best method is, the film’s overarching theme does show that words, to an extent, cut deeper than other wounds.

The film is the perfect onscreen depiction of themes that became popularized by Ralph Keye’s book “The Post-Truth Era”. In the book, Keyes coins the term “post-truth era” and digs deeper into how lying has become so ingrained in our culture and that modern society has evolved into a casual dishonesty that is the right balance between truth and deception. 

He writes, “Most of us lie and are lied to on a regular basis. These lies run the gamut from ‘I like sushi’ to ‘ love you.’ Even though we’re more likely to deceive strangers than friends, we save our most serious lies for those we care about most.”

You Hurt My Feelings successfully portrays this notion in a tasteful way. The characters are just like the rest of us, ordinary individuals, who sometimes forget about their privilege and are so fixated on being liked by others that their world is shattered when anyone provides any criticism or negative feedback. What’s most relatable is that we are all seeking affirmation from our loved ones and family, but when that validation is not given or reciprocated, our worlds and self-worth come crashing down.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January 2023 and will be released in the US on May 26, 2023.

You Hurt My Feelings premieres in theatres on May 26! See it at Regal. 

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