Holofcener writes for the characters, not just for the plot. It’s an element of her writing that especially shines in earlier films such as “Walking and Talking” and “Lovely & Amazing.”
In the latter movie, she follows generations of women struggling to adhere to the ever-changing rules and expectations of womanhood. From career aspirations to beauty standards that dictate thinness—and how the two can intersect—the film allows space for the unyielding struggle of adapting to a world where the ruler defined by social pressure changes rapidly with little regard for who it affects the most. It manages to defy expectations, too, as it shows how the pains of unmet beauty standards ache throughout life, and the remnants are cyclical. “Lovely & Amazing” demonstrates how these insidious beliefs are taught and absorbed.
That Holofcener deals in such heavy subject matter with levity makes it all the more human—it’s the adage of ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry instead.’ It’s one of many instances where Holofcener understands that often the greatest causes of turbulent emotions stem from systems, learned patterns, and quiet expectations.
“Walking and Talking” overflows with similar thematic elements of what it means to be a woman and the expectations that come with it while also dealing with the significance of friendship between women in times of trial and growth. As her first feature film, it’s close to a mission statement for the rest of her career. There are the casual insults that bruise, the bizarre mating rituals that consume so much of our adult life, and the staggering force of bonds between friends. Catherine Keener’s Amelia and Anne Heche’s Laura need to split off from their tethers to explore their individual missteps before coming back together, a little worn and weary but capable of lifting up one another.
The film reminds viewers of the constant need for nurture that helps friendships live and flourish throughout time. While romantic relationships are certainly present in many of her films, what speaks to so many viewers is how every dynamic is given time to evolve, reminiscent of real life. The bonds between siblings and lifelong friends can be just as grounding and revitalizing as a romantic one.
Holofcener is one of our greatest screenwriters, and “You Hurt My Feelings” is arguably her strongest film. Her triumphs are rooted in her ability to see beyond artifice, and her want to depict humans as they truly are, eager to escape the trappings of Hollywood, where so many films gift us examples of our best, worst, exaggerated selves. Her magic stems from a language of filmmaking that loves the subjects she’s telling stories about, and that means honoring all of the minute, dull, boorish, and intimate details of their lives. Holofcener knows what so many of us do and then honors it from text to screen: we’re all so small in the grand scale of things, our existence worthy of stories still.