By Alex McPherson

Breezy, funny, and insubstantial, director Nicole Holofcener’s “You Hurt My Feelings” provides its ensemble ample room to flex their comedic chops, but remains emotionally limited by a low-stakes narrative aiming for profundity and arriving at something less than revelatory. 

Set within our dying planet in the bustling metropolis hellscape of New York City, “You Hurt My Feelings” revolves around Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a middle-aged author and teacher at The New School, who, all things considered, lives a pretty-damn-privileged existence. She has a new novel coming out — two years in the making — that she’s having trouble getting off the ground due to an unenthusiastic agent. It’s the follow-up to her moderately successful memoir that spotlighted her father’s verbal abuse, which instilled a huge layer of insecurity. 

She’s sarcastic and judgy, but enjoys a happy marriage with her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies), a somewhat burnt-out therapist whose clients — played by real-life spouses Amber Tamblyn and David Cross, plus Zach Cherry in peak straight-faced hilarity — are becoming increasingly fed up with his lack of engagement and “results.”

Their 20-something son Eliot (Owen Teague) is an aspiring playwright working at a weed dispensary, frequently annoyed that he feels like a third wheel around his parents. Beth’s sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), is a jaded interior designer with a sardonic wit. Her brother-in-law, Mark (Arian Moayed), is an actor with dreams of fame and fortune struggling to secure roles beyond a small part in a “pumpkin movie.”

Arian Moayed and Michaela Watkins

Suffice to say, everyone in this little circle is self-doubting, seeking validation and reassurance from those close to them. Our heroine, Beth, is particularly vulnerable. When she and Sarah overhear Don disclosing to Mark that he doesn’t like her newest novel and can’t stand reading draft after draft of it, Beth spirals — putting her marriage at risk as she grapples with this bombshell revelation.

Over the course of a 93-minute runtime, Beth gains greater understanding of how the “little white lies” we tell each other aren’t always that bad, along with how (shocker) we shouldn’t let our work or other’s reactions to our work define us and our well-being.

With Louis-Dreyfus inhabiting her character with an anxious, believable energy, “You Hurt My Feelings” remains an appealing watch, as Beth and company navigate rocky waters of communication and come to realizations that gently inform their existences going forward. This reflects life, in a sense, as some people change and some don’t, but the film still lacks heft. By the end, it takes a surprisingly light touch to its flawed characters, saying little of significance in the process.

That’s not to say the experience of watching “You Hurt My Feelings” isn’t enjoyable, though. Holofcener’s dialogue crackles with snarky wit, as Beth bumbles her way around NYC – casually critiquing plenty of people along the way, sometimes in offensive fashion. Beth herself, whether she realizes it or not, strategically deploys truths and little white lies in her day-to-day life — whether it’s half-heartedly volunteering at a church clothing giveaway to feel like a “good person,” to feigning interest in her students’ off-putting story ideas. 

Louis-Dreyfus sells Beth’s outwardly bubbly nature and conceitedness, friendliness belying a lack of self love and belief in her own abilities as a creative. Her mother, Georgia (the always excellent Jeannie Berlin), perpetuates Beth’s anxieties through humorous passive-aggressiveness.

Beth trusts Don more than anyone else, however, so his seeming “betrayal” hits her like a wrecking ball, which Louis Dreyfus neither undersells nor overplays; if anything, the film would have benefited from a more cartoonish expression of her panic. As it stands, it’s difficult to connect with her concerns: they’re monumental to her, but as outside observers, they seem trivial, and Holofcener never dives deeply into her background or creative drive to establish real pathos for her plight. 

She loves Don and Don loves her. Of course Don wants to be a supportive husband, of course he wouldn’t tell her his true feelings about her writing (which we’re never led as viewers to believe is actually praiseworthy), as he recognizes that his opinions are ultimately irrelevant: he’ll support her no matter what. This is evident from the outset, and, with some late-movie platitudes lacking nuance delivered by Teague (doing the most with a clichéd character), renders the core conflict of “You Hurt My Feelings” fairly shallow and predictable.

Aside from Beth’s unwarranted stressors, “You Hurt My Feelings” explores other facets of this idea, as people in her social bubble navigate similar waters of honesty and dishonesty, truth and lies, in their personal and professional bonds. Don, stressed about aging and exhausted from a string of demanding clients while putting on a brave face (which Menzies embodies with subtly-calibrated mannerisms), avoids admitting to his cataclysmic falsehood. This doesn’t pan out well, but guess what? Communication is key, as usual.

Sarah encounters her own challenges — her whole job involves appeasing finicky clients with artwork to adorn their homes, smiling and gritting her teeth, with plenty of unused insults at the ready under her breath. Mark struggles to find meaning and work as an actor, while Sarah stands behind him through thick and thin, notwithstanding she doesn’t think he’s all that good all the time.

Boosted by Holofcener’s zinger-filled screenplay and patient editing that zeroes in on expressions and awkward pauses, “You Hurt My Feelings” depicts these situations with a crowd-pleasing touch, but that doesn’t excuse that they aren’t all that compelling to watch in the first place. Indeed, the film’s muted style and inherent softness misses opportunities to critique its characters on a more foundational level, not fully selling their problems nor Beth’s gradual gaining of self-awareness. It’s not all that dramatic, or relatable, as we (im)patiently wait for the characters to catch up with reality.

Perhaps I’m the wrong demographic for this story, and perhaps the film’s lack of spectacle is the point, but it remains slight, less a meaningful story than a batch of gently amusing scenarios in service of relatable yet obvious messaging.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

“You Hurt My Feelings” is a 2023 comedy-drama written and directed by Nicole Holofcener and starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Owen Teague, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, David Cross, Amber Tamblyn, Zach Cherry and Jeannie Berlin. It is rated R for language and runtime is 1 hour and 33 minutes. It opened in theaters May 26. Alex’s Grade: B-.

By Alex McPherson

An ambitious historical epic with powerful performances, hard-hitting action sequences, and an intelligent condemnation of systemic injustice, director Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” approaches glory, but falls slightly short of achieving it.

Based on actual events and taking place in 14th century France, the film, broken into three sections, begins with Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon, sporting an unfortunate hairdo), a valiant fighter serving under the cuckoo Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck). De Carrouges, having lost his first wife and child from the plague, sees an opportunity to father an heir and inherit a large dowry, which includes a huge swathe of land. He weds Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), the daughter of a wealthy-yet-disgraced nobleman. However, through a series of political maneuvers, longtime friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) ends up possessing a large portion of de Carrouges’ new land, gets promoted to captaincy over him, and rapes Marguerite when she’s alone at home. De Carrouges files lawsuit after lawsuit, eventually requesting a last duel to the death. Retribution for Marguerite’s rape isn’t de Carrouge’s primary motivation — it’s his own pride and “honor” that’s at stake.

We then see the same events from Le Gris’ point of view: he observes as the handsome, fun-loving squire who parties with the Count and helps him improve his fortunes (Le Gris can read and handle basic accountancy). He betters his own lot in life by currying favors. In this version, de Carrouges isn’t a brave warrior, but a bumbling fool. It’s all rather smooth sailing for Le Gris who, after the assault, is reassured from the Count and the clergy that there’s no way that Marguerite’s claims will be taken seriously. 

Jump to section three, the most resonant of them all, and we watch the happenings unfold from Marguerite’s vantage point, getting a more intimate look at the horrible situation she’s become stuck in. She’s left feeling dehumanized and at the mercy of arrogant men whose final battle risks not only their lives, but her own as well.

Suffice to say, there’s plenty of anxious tension headed into the climactic confrontation, a bloody brawl that’s undoubtedly one of the best scenes of 2021. Beforehand, “The Last Duel” takes a creative approach to storytelling that fully fleshes out its subjects — the courageous Marguerite in particular. While Scott’s film isn’t especially profound in revealing that 14th century France was, in fact, horrendously unjust towards women, it slyly demonstrates how shifts in perspective can alter how we perceive the world, and the self-serving ways in which we might perceive ourselves.

Indeed, “The Last Duel” invites viewers to compare and contrast each party’s accounts of what took place, illustrating pertinent differences between them. Alterations in music, camera angles, and dialogue reveal the truth layer by layer, depending on who’s telling it, both serving to fill in narrative gaps and make the film feel decidedly stretched-out by the sword-clashing finale. The costuming and production design are incredibly detailed and period accurate, to be expected. The screenplay — co-written by Damon, Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener — highlights the egomania of de Carrouges and Le Gris, while occasionally throwing subtlety to the wind.   

This episodic structure wouldn’t work if the actors weren’t in top form, and luckily, the whole cast delivers. Comer, bringing to life Marguerite’s kindness, trauma, and steadfast bravery in facing a system designed to subordinate her, is wholly deserving of accolades come awards season. Until the final act, she’s mostly relegated to the sidelines, but she conveys Marguerite’s weathered fearlessness through her facial expressions alone, infusing the film’s final stretch with true emotional gravitas. 

Damon and Driver are similarly effective, albeit portraying more straightforward characters. There’s little redeeming either of them, no matter if we’re seeing through their eyes or not, but “The Last Duel” takes great lengths to show the patriarchal structures that inform their worldviews. Affleck almost seems like he’s in a different film, but it’s entertaining watching him embrace a demented frat boy persona as the Count, drunk on power along with alcohol.

Where the film stumbles involves Scott’s lack of restraint. Witnessing Marguerite’s assault — twice — comes across as exploitative rather than necessary. On one hand, “The Last Duel” paints similarities of Le Gris’ monstrous actions to the “playful” nights he enjoys with women in the Count’s chambers. On the other hand, when shown again through Marguerite’s frame of reference, it serves little purpose beyond shock value, fueling our anger leading into the titular showdown. In this case,“The Last Duel” uses her violation to artificially amplify dramatic stakes.

Although the film is ultimately uneven in execution, there’s still enough compelling characters to carry it through to its squirm-inducing conclusion. “The Last Duel” succeeds in demonstrating how the past informs the present, and the importance of recognizing how a core issue of the time — viewing women as property rather than human beings — continues in various insidious forms today. It’s also just a bone-crushing, suspenseful medieval thriller that prizes at least some brains over pure brawn.

Jodie Comer in “The Last Duel”

“The Last Duel” is a 2021 drama directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. The run time is 2 hours, 32 minutes, and it is Rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language. Alex’s Grade: B+