Honesty is the best policy, they say. Love means never having to say you’re sorry, they say. Of course, “they” say a lot of things, but not many that score as high on the malarkey meter as those two.
Operating as effective counterprogramming to the Memorial Day Weekend releases of the live-action The Little Mermaid remake and the mistimed Robert DeNiro comedy About My Father (Father’s Day is in like three weeks, guys!), You Hurt My Feelings is a smart, funny, palatable dramedy about ego, insecurity, and just how much truth we really want in our relationships.
Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is the author of an acclaimed memoir who teaches writing classes to make ends meet while struggling to sell her fictional follow-up. Her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) is a therapist who worries that he might not be very good at his job. (He might be right.) Beth’s sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) is an interior decorator with hard-to-please clients. Her husband Mark (Arian Moayed—hi, Stewy!) is a stage actor whose most recognizable work came in a family film about a pumpkin ten years ago. (“I wasn’t the lead,” he admits.)
Despite this quartet’s almost algorithmic psychological similarities, writer-director Nicole Holofcener and her cast imbue them and their relationships with specificity and humanity. Beth visits her 23-year-old son Eliot (Owen Teague) at his job managing a pot shop but refuses to buy her own weed from him. (Boundaries or something?). Sarah carries the indigestion meds that Mark frequently requires in her purse at all times. Mark himself is a sock connoisseur.
That final affectation is key to the movie’s inciting incident. Beth and Sarah jokingly sneak up on the men as they shop for socks, and inadvertently overhear Don confessing to Mark that he doesn’t really like Beth’s new book, which of course he has praised to her face. She is crestfallen and resentful (who wouldn’t be?), and therein lies the marital crisis at the heart of You Hurt My Feelings.
Holofcener, as she’s always done, resists the siren call of melodrama to craft thoroughly relatable characters and situations. That said, the fact that a middling therapist and a struggling author can afford the apartment Beth and Don live in succumbs to one of the movies’ most common absurdities. She’s always been adept at humanizing the privileged, especially when collaborating with Louis-Dreyfus—the scenes in which Beth and Sarah volunteer at a clothing drive for the homeless is reminiscent of their 2010 collaboration Please Give.
You Hurt My Feelings contains that rarest of species in American movies: not one, but two married couples who, despite their foibles, love each other and ultimately work through their issues in mature and healthy ways. (Sorry, spoiler alert, I guess.) There are no bad guys here, and no heroes.
Surrounding this core are some excellent role players, most notably real-life spouses David Cross and Amber Tamblyn as a hilariously dysfunctional couple who are Don’s patients. (Severance’s Zach Cherry is another.) Moayed’s Succession castmate Jeanine Berlin oozes old-money creakiness as Beth and Sarah’s mother; maybe that explains the apartment? And the adorable Josh Pais has a wry cameo as himself.
It’s been more than 25 years since Holofcener’s first feature, and her portraits of the first-world problems of neurotic New Yorkers have only gotten more textured and satisfying. It’s enough to make one wonder if she has picked up the mantle of the Big Apple’s uptown cinematic chronicler that was so clumsily fumbled by Woody Allen. (Minus the pseudo-autobiographical sexual ickiness, of course.) If so, perhaps it’s time she was acknowledged in the industry as he once was. Distressingly, her only Oscar nomination was for co-writing a film that she didn’t direct. Fixing that would be a good start. (Opens Friday, May 26, at Cinema 21, Living Room Theaters, the Kiggins Theater, the Darkside Cinema in Corvallis, and other area theaters.)
The Starling Girl tells a familiar, but unfortunately still relevant, tale about a 17-year-old girl, raised in a fundamentalist Christian community in Kentucky, who finds herself woefully unprepared for adulthood and easy prey for an older man. Jem (a luminous Eliza Scanlan) is a member of her church’s dance troupe, but the culture she lives in oppresses her physicality to the degree that she is chastised for the barely visible outline of a bra beneath her dress in church. When the handsome Owen (Lewis Pullman) who is both married and ten years older than Jem, returns from a mission to Puerto Rico, it’s immediately evident that there’s…something…between them. Is she using him as a stand-in for her rebellion against puritanism and/or her troubled father? Is he exploiting her for cruder, predatory purposes? The questions are as old as Humbert Humbert, but writer-director Laurel Parmet, with her first feature, provides some interesting insights, and refreshingly centers its female character’s agency. (Opens Friday, May 26, at the Salem Cinema and the Eugene Art House.)
Both The Five Devils and The Innocent likely would have shown up on arthouse screens in a parallel universe where discriminating film fans still ventured out of doors. They would at the very least have been excellent candidates for a slot at the Portland International Film Festival, if such a thing existed. Instead, I suppose we ought to be grateful that streaming platforms such as MUBI and The Criterion Channel, respectively, exist so they don’t vanish entirely into the ether.
Both feature French female actors who are among the most exciting of their generation. Adèle Exarchopoulos was thrust into the spotlight at 20 when she co-starred in the sexually explicit Blue Is the Warmest Color. Now, nine years later, she has confirmed that she’s much more than a pretty face. In The Five Devils, she’s Joanne, a swimming instructor in a stunning Alpine village with a handsome firefighter husband (Moustapha Mbengue) and an adorable, if enigmatic, young daughter, Vicky (Sally Dramé).
When Vicky exhibits a preternatural sense of smell and is shown to collect various odors in jars she keeps, we know we’ve entered magical realism territory. (Frustratingly, her parents continue to smoke in the house even after learning of their daughter’s hypersensitive senses. Ah, the French…) After her father’s sister Julia (Swala Emati) arrives in town needing a place to stay, it becomes apparent that there is some serious history between these three that also encompasses Joanne’s facially scarred co-worker Nadine (Daphné Patakia). And once Vicky discovers that Julia’s scent can send her back in time as an observer of key moments in that history, The Five Devils becomes an odd mishmash of time-travel tragedy and small-town melodrama, in which the latter is more interesting than the former.
The actor-director Louis Garrel has been a familiar, brooding presence in French cinema since appearing in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers 20 years ago. In his latest effort, The Innocent, he tweaks that image to play Abel, the anxious son of a woman (Anouk Grinberg) who marries newly released ex-con Michel (Roschdy Zem, seen recently in a similar role in Other People’s Children). Suspicious of Michel’s motives, Abel enlists the aid of his co-worker, and best friend to his dead wife, Clémence (Noémie Merlant), to surveil the seemingly reformed thief.
What plays out is the sort of comedic thriller that somehow sounds better with a Continental accent. The high point is Merlant, who won a Best Supporting Actress César award for imbuing an underwritten platonic-best-pal role into a sly, effective co-conspirator in a caviar heist that goes awry. While neither The Five Devils nor The Innocent is great cinema, that’s kind of the point. Being a smart piece of entertainment with attractive and talented performers just isn’t enough these days to rate a big-screen slot. (The Five Devils is streaming on MUBI; The Innocent is streaming on The Criterion Channel.)
The Hollywood Theatre is trotting out a roster of 70mm screenings this weekend that serves as the perfect enticement for those seeking some big-screen spectacle without indulging in the buffet of sequels and remakes on offer this summer. The reigning champion, of course is 2001: A Space Odyssey, and here’s a free promotional idea: Find the person who has seen the film at the Hollywood the most since the theater became (re-)equipped for 70mm screenings. Then give that person a free monolith or something. Also on tap is the far cheesier and nudity-filled sci-fi opus Lifeforce, but the real treat is Paul Thomas Anderson’s breakthrough Boogie Nights, making its 70mm debut. Insert the joke of your choice about large-frame formats and ’70s porn here. (Friday-Tuesday, May 26-30, Hollywood Theatre. Check website for showtimes.)
The documentary Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire presents new, yet old, ways of thinking about how to manage the ever-growing threat of wildfires in the Western United States (Friday-Thursday, Hollywood):
The indie comedy Dealing with Dad follows an Asian-American family’s efforts to deal with their grumpy, depressed patriarch. (Eugene Art House, all week; Saturday-Wednesday, Darkside Cinema in Corvallis; Saturday, Clinton Street Theater)
A rotating series of micro-budget showcases continues with the Oregon Short Film Festival’s Spring Edition (Sunday, Clinton)
ALSO THIS WEEK:
FRIDAY: Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar winner Spirited Away (Hollywood); David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (Academy, all week); Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (Academy, all week); Eugene Art House’s Federico Fellini series continues with his masterwork 8 ½ (all week)
SATURDAY: Bette Davis’ swan song Wicked Stepmother (Clinton Street); Steven Spielberg’s big-screen debut Duel (Cinema 21); more Miyazaki with My Neighbor Totoro (HWD)
SUNDAY: The International Youth Silent Film Festival (Hollywood)
TUESDAY: Greg Hamilton’s always-mind-expanding Psychotronic After School Special (Clinton Street); Fritz Lang’s silent spy epic The Spiders with live musical accompaniment (Darkside Cinema in Corvallis)
WEDNESDAY: Church of Film presents the surreal 1986 French sci-fi crime thriller In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal (Clinton); Best of Portland Public Schools Film Festival (Hollywood); celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Japanese TV superhero show with the new big-screen version of Shin Kamen Rider (Eugene Art House)
THURSDAY: Tamara Dobson in the blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones (35mm, HWD)