Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicole Holofcener. Photo courtesy of A24

It was the Ugly Guy that made me a Nicole Holofcener fan.

I confess that that’s a typically self-involved reason for a young man to truly get into a filmmaker whose indie works invariably provide under-the-radar actresses with stellar starring roles all while telling smart and funny female-centric stories. But that’s a guy for you.

Especially a guy working at a video store, whose unkempt, underachiever’s demeanor and stunted creative ambitions seize on any movie that makes an appreciative nod, however qualified, in his direction. Holofcener – whose latest film, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus-starring indie dramedy “You Hurt My Feelings,” is opening on Friday at Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema – started her acclaimed career with 1996’s “Walking and Talking,” a film I discovered when toiling behind the counter at Portland’s sadly defunct Videoport.

“Walking and Talking” is the story of two lifelong friends, played by the great Catherine Keener and the underrated and sadly late Anne Heche. BFFs since childhood, the two women, now in their late 20s, deal with personal and professional troubles, and the unsettling suspicion that Heche’s upcoming marriage will drive them apart. There are a couple of interesting actors playing the women’s romantic interests (Liev Schreiber and future Maine-based director Todd Field), but, as I told countless customers seeking rental recommendations, the film represented a rare movie where female friendship was the theme and the narrative drive. Everyone’s real and sparklingly alive and funny, and Holofcener’s talent with story and her actors showed “Walking and Talking” as the calling card of a major new force in American indie film.

And then there was the Ugly Guy. As part of her journey through restless single life, Keener’s Amelia eventually singles out the one person outside of Heche’s increasingly busy Laura who seems to find her interesting. That man is Bill, a rumpled, unkempt movie clerk know-it-all who floods her with great movie recommendations and who just happens to be a closet screenwriter whose love of gory horror flicks coexists with his plan to write a movie about trailblazing French author Colette.

You can see why the Ugly Guy stuck with me. Especially since, as played by great character actor Kevin Corrigan, Bill’s outward ungainliness (Amelia only refers to him in phone calls to Laura as the Ugly Guy) actually gets the smart and beautiful customer – at least for a little while.


(Here I confess with no small pride that this author, former video clerk and Ugly Guy did wind up marrying the impossibly smart and beautiful real-life customer who liked his recommendations. Happy endings are possible.)

Holofcener’s movies are peopled almost exclusively with flawed, funny, fundamentally decent people. When Bill overhears a phone message where Laura repeats his nickname, his response is both petty and principled, a strangely defiant little grab at dignity that hinges on nobody getting what they want but this weird underdog emerging from “Walking and Talking” a more interesting and complex character than we gave him credit for. It’s the sort of shaded and subtle turn that Holofcener’s movies are famous for – at least among those of us who know who she is.

In the time since “Walking and Talking,” Holofcener has made film after film of such excellent, funny and female-driven comedy-dramas, almost all starring actresses of a certain age and a certain type typically shunted to the margins by major studios. “Lovely and Amazing” (2001) had Keener, Emily Mortimer and Brenda Blethyn, while 2006’s “Friends with Money” starred Keener, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Jennifer Aniston (then looking to up her post-“Friends” indie cred). The Holofcener stable of actresses expands, as actresses like Keener relish in the opportunity to play an actual human woman (one over 40 at that) in films like 2010’s “Please Give” (also with Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall), and 2013’s “Enough Said” (which brought Louis-Dreyfus into the Holofcener fold for the first time, along with Keener and Toni Colette).

I recommended all these films hundreds of times before Videoport shut down in 2015. Some people took them home, some didn’t. Women were most drawn to my description of these movies for adults – adult women, specifically – but I could rope in a guy or two when I pointed out how “Enough Said” featured a truly lovely and gentle performance from “The Sopranos” star, the late James Gandolfini as Louis-Dreyfus’ seemingly mismatched love interest. (The video biz was dead by the time Holofcener’s typically excellent 2018 drama “The Land of Steady Habits” came out, but an understated gem of a lead from Ben Mendelsohn might have served to lure some eyes.)

In the meantime, Holofcener wrote the award-winning biopic “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” which netted Melissa McCarthy the best reviews of her career, and teamed with Boston bros Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to co-write Ridley Scott’s “Rashomon”-style medieval drama “The Last Duel,” to great acclaim.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “You Hurt My Feelings” Photo courtesy of A24

Still, “You Hurt My Feelings” is Holofcener back in her comfort zone, and I couldn’t be happier. Louis-Dreyfus returns as a semi-successful author who accidentally overhears her outwardly supportive husband (“The Crown’s” Tobias Menzies) give his real opinion of her latest work. The cast is typically stacked with offbeat, oft-overlooked talents like Michaela Watkins, Jeannie Berlin and Amber Tamblyn, and if Holofcener’s world remains one of upper middle-class ennui and comic dissatisfaction (and a staunchly white one at that), I’m not one to complain overly, since her films, without exception, make me glad to be there.


Not to keep harping on the good old video store days (but seriously – everyone paying for 10 separate streaming services should have heeded our warnings), but Holofcener’s films were a godsend for Ugly Guys like me. Faced with customer after movie-hungry customer questing after something new but somehow right on their wavelength, I had some go-to stops on the Videoport aisles. For the right customer – and I got very good at spotting them – a “Walking and Talking” or “Enough Said” was going to expertly scratch an itch they didn’t know they had.

Sure, I like other kinds of movies, and I wasn’t going to recommend a gently funny female-led dramedy like “Lovely and Amazing” to the guy asking about the stomach-clenching horrors of the New French Extremity. But there’s a world for movies about grownups. About grownup women, even.

Holofcener’s cinema is narrow and expansive at the same time, her unhappy relationships and mid-life crises unfolding with unexpected complexity and wit. When people complain that the local movie theater is overrun with loud, spandex-clad spectacles for teenage boys, a movie like “You Hurt My Feelings” serves as a deft and entertaining retort. There are outstanding indie movies about adults being made – you just have to go out and watch them.

“You Hurt My Feelings” is playing at Brunswick’s great indie theater Eveningstar Cinema starting Friday. It’s 93 minutes, and it’s rated R – for adults.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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