February 3, 2023

Sundance 2023 Reviews: “You Hurt My Feelings,” “When It Melts” & “Jamojaya”


YOU HURT MY FEELINGS (A24):  The title of Nicole Holofcener’s newest film is a fair guide to its stakes.  Her projects (Walking & Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money, Enough Said) have always been modest in scale, but this one in particular feels more like a collection of anecdotes than even a short story.  It’s set in a world of insecure New York intellectuals (it may make some nostalgic for the comedies of That-Filmmaker-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named), and its theme is an accounting of the pros and cons of telling those close to us the unvarnished truth.  Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a writer with a new novel in the works, married to psychiatrist Don (Tobias Menzies); their son Eliot (Owen Teague) is an aspiring playwright who currently works in a cannabis store.  Beth’s sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins) is an interior decorator married to actor Mark (Arian Moayed).  They’re all shaped by the opinions others have of them.  For Beth, that delicate web is blown away when she accidentally overhears Don tell Mark that contrary to the reassurances he’s been giving her, he really doesn’t care for her new novel.  This erodes her self-confidence, and opens the door to a consideration of all the polite untruths we tell, often with benign motives, and whether that genteel social structure is really for the best, or whether honesty, however insensitive, is actually the best policy.  Having pointed out the variations of this conundrum of human nature (between spouses, siblings and friends, parents and children, a psychiatrist and his patients), Holofcener is pretty much done–there’s no larger vision to You Hurt My Feelings.  Moment by moment, though, the film is consistently funny and engaging, graced by an expert cast that can find the comedy in every nuance of dialogue and pause (apart from the leads, the cast includes the wonderful Jeannie Berlin as Beth and Sara’s mother, and Zach Cherry, David Cross and Amber Tamblyn as patients of Don’s).  You Hurt My Feelings is pleasurable from start to finish, if also light-hearted to a fault.

WHEN IT MELTS:  In fiction, a journey to one’s childhood home after a long absence is usually an invitation to trauma, and that’s true in an extreme way for Eva (played by Charlotte De Bruyne as an adult, and Rosa Marchant as a child).  Veerie Baetens’s film, based by Baetens and Maarten Loix on Lize Spit’s novel, makes it clear from the start that Something Terrible happened to Eva back home, something that revolved around a brain-teaser (not a new one) about a block of ice.  When the adult Eva, isolated and unhappy, hears about a memorial service for someone she’d known in those days, she grimly gets into her car with just such a block, and flashbacks during her journey fill us in on the dreadful events of her youth, when her close friendship with two boys was destroyed forever.  There isn’t a lot of tonal variety to Baetens’s film, which has the structure of a revenge thriller but doesn’t offer that genre’s emotional release.  Instead, we follow the parallel tracks of the older and younger Evas, the adult as she makes her determined way to her destiny with those she used to know, and the child as she steps toward a disaster we can see coming.  Both actresses perform with a great deal of intensity (Marchant won a Sundance Jury Award for her performance), and Baetens does an effective job of parceling out the information about what actually occurred in Eva’s past.  When It Melts is something of an ordeal, assembled with artistry.

JAMOJAYA:  A only somewhat penetrable mix of contemporary drama and fable.  Justin Chon’s film (written with Maegan Houang) is about James (Brian Imanuel), a rising Indonesian rapper.  (Imanuel is himself a rapper making his acting debut.)  James has become successful enough to be signed by a multinational label represented by Michael (Henry Ian Cusick), who’s as ruthless and uncaring an executive as one would expect.  Jamojaya is a battle for James’s soul between Michael and the riches and fame he offers, and James’s original manager Joyo (Yayu A.W. Unru), who is also his father, that plays out as James attempts to record his first big album at the label’s studio in Hawaii.  Joyo is annoyingly intrusive and has almost no knowledge of the music business, but he cares about his son above all else, especially after the recent death of James’s brother.  All of this is mixed with Indonesian folklore about a prince transformed into a tree, and the brother who became a bird to find him, the two never to connect.  Jamojaya is clearly a personal work for Chon (whose recent more mainstream projects include Blue Bayou and serving as co-director of Pachinko.)  But its unsubtle industry critique, family drama and poetic interludes don’t really come together, and only Unru’s deeply-etched performance breaks through as a father willing to humiliate himself to help a son who often wants to be rid of him.  The moments of beauty and insight in Jamojaya don’t ultimately outweigh its overall lack of cohesion.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."