Following the finale of Succession, who will continue filming Manhattan? Despite the show’s largely British crew, Succession understands the city in a way that so few movies or television shows do. While Seinfeld’s contributions are more clear—like letting the rest of the world know how aggravating the Puerto Rican Day Parade can be—Jesse Armstrong’s show not only captures the atmosphere but has the eyes of a New Yorker. So many productions shoot in New York, and even more double for it, but there aren’t many that nail the city: Taxi Driver, Sex and the City, Claudine, everything by Woody Allen, and recently, Funny Pages. I’ve never watched Friends, but I’ve seen pictures of their backlot Manhattan—far from laughable, it’s just as beautiful as candy-colored MGM musicals. But it’s not New York. You can make a true New York movie only with interiors—like Don’t Bother to Knock, recently featured in Blonde—but unless you can shoot wide shots down the narrow corridors of vision in Manhattan, it’s not complete.
Nicole Holofcener’s You Hurt My Feelings fills a void left by Allen, whose films reliably filled art house screens every year. His detractors still argue that it’s freed up valuable space for younger filmmakers with better films than Scoop, Wonder Wheel, and Whatever Works. I say that the man who made Annie Hall, Interiors, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Deconstructing Harry deserves two weeks in 1000 theaters once a year. Despite some social progress in the last decade, commercial film booking remains as conservative and uncreative as ever in America; glorified cable documentaries are the real enemy: easy, “real,” without the aesthetic considerations of a movie like Tsai Ming-Liang’s Days or Hong Sang-soo’s The Woman Who Ran, neither of which played Baltimore for very long.
With such a small art house market, You Hurt My Feelings feels like a throwback as much as the Paul Mazursky movie one of its characters references, An Unmarried Woman, where Jill Clayburgh navigates divorce in middle age in 1978’s New York City. The personal problems of upper middle class and rich New Yorkers may have inspired Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson, but they don’t work in the city anymore. You Hurt My Feelings is a familiar kind of New York movie, where Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a writer married to Tobias Menzies, a therapist. While his practice slowly falters, she overhears him telling her brother-in-law (Arian Moayed) that her new novel isn’t very good. In fact, it’s “bad.”
This is the main event of the movie, and a premise that Holofcener is able to hang skit upon skit on, from a son played by Owen Teague working in a pot store, to regular couples therapy visits by real-life married couple David Cross and Amber Tamblyn, to the interior designer antics of sister Michaela Watkins. Their marriage doesn’t end, their son doesn’t die, friends remain friends, and everyone’s survived another year. But there’s a dread, the same dread in so much media now: an ambient sense of the apocalypse, regular references to “the world burning” and “things falling apart.” More than anything, You Hurt My Feelings reminds me of a movie from the 1930s—take that as you will.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith