In You Hurt My Feelings, the latest movie from writer-director Nicole Holofcener, one question keeps coming to the surface: should you lie to someone you love to make them happy? After overhearing her otherwise devoted husband Don (Tobias Menzies) admitting that he doesn't like her new novel, a now-spiraling Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) would be inclined to say 'yes.'
When we sit down with Holofcener over Zoom, she tells us that "lots of insecure moments" inspired the film, rather than one specific instance. "I thought, what if it was my husband? What a nightmare that would be. And could the relationship survive something like that?"
Beth already has a memoir under her belt and teaches creative writing at a New York City college, but her novel is a constant source of anxiety: her agent isn't keen on what she's written so far, and she's struggling to put pen to paper, so Don's comments are the final straw. This kind of career insecurity is usually reserved for much younger characters – think Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha. "We think when we're younger that we'll get over this and we'll become different people, and we don't," Holofcener says.
"I mean, I have more confidence than I did in my 20s, in many ways. But exposing yourself at any age with what you do creatively, that is always vulnerable, at least for me. The insecurities or the need for approval doesn't really go away when you're an adult, [but] it might be a little less. So, if you feel those things, it's gonna get better. It's terrifying to be young."
Louis-Dreyfus is no stranger to working with Holofcener, starring alongside James Gandolfini (in one of his final roles) in 2013's Enough Said. Holofcener tells us that she wrote the role of Beth with Louis-Dreyfus in mind, hoping for another collaboration. "I had told her the idea of the script and she loved [it] and said, 'I'm gonna be in that.' You never know once you give [someone] the script, because what if I did a shitty job, but she loved it and was excited. We had such a good time – it's a blessing to work with someone so smart, so funny, so nice."
Holofcener's other recent big-screen projects include writing the script for Marielle Heller's Can You Ever Forgive Me? starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, but her last writing credit was on Ridley Scott's The Last Duel, a medieval tale of rape and fragile masculinity. You Hurt My Feelings, however, is a much more comedic affair. The cast is full of comedy heavy hitters, from Louis-Dreyfus to Hollywood royalty Jeannie Berlin, who plays Beth and Sarah's mother. "Her manager called me and said, 'Would you be interested in Jeannie Berlin?' And I was like, 'Are you joking?'" Holofcener tells us.
"She's in one of my all-time favorite movies, the Heartbreak Kid, which I've owned my own copies of and watched millions of times. She's also really not old enough to be Julia's mother, but she was willing to look it – she’s got the grey wig – and I just took the idea and ran with it. It was brilliant. She's so funny."
Arrested Development's David Cross also has a small role in the movie as one of Don's clients, an oafish man blundering through couples therapy with his equally abrasive wife, played by Amber Tamblyn. The duo may provide stand-out performances, including in the film's cold open, but they weren't originally part of the cast. "I actually had a different married couple, but they got COVID. At the last minute, my casting director suggested them, and I was like, 'Oh, they're too cool. They'll never do it,'" Holofcener recalls. "And they jumped on it. And what a gift, right? [They're] some of the funniest scenes, and the ability to open the movie with both of them being so funny was a blessing."
Bearing the brunt of Cross and Tamblyn's disastrous marriage is Beth's husband Don, a therapist who's finding his clients ever-dissatisfied with his services. Along with Beth's worries about her book, brother-in-law Mark (Arian Moayed)'s spiraling acting career, and Beth's sister Sarah’s (Michaela Watkins) increasing disdain for the wealthy patrons of her interior design business, this is a group of people who are scrambling for meaning in their work.
Holofcener, however, says that she finds her own job "incredibly gratifying." "It's made my life so rich," she says. "At the same time, I don't feel like I'm really doing anything to help the world, and people will say, 'Oh, yes, you are, because you're making these movies, and people see themselves in the movies.' To me, it doesn't feel like I'm doing good for the world, it feels like playing around in my own sandbox and having a lot of fun. I mean, [Sarah's] job is... I understand. If I had that job, I would not be a happy person. But I'm lucky that I love mine."
You Hurt My Feelings premieres in the UK at Sundance Film Festival: London on July 9, before hitting Prime Video on August 8. For more, check out our guide to the rest of the year's most highly anticipated movie release dates.