October 20, 2023 – The biggest surprise in researching those behind this observant comedy about neurotic New York City artistic types is that Woody Allen was not involved in the production of this movie, but he may well have been an inspiration for it. This movie was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said” and “The Land of Steady Habits”).
The story centers around miscommunication, little white lies and what happens to people's self confidence when find out what others really think of them. The main characters are teacher and writer Beth (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Enough Said”) her husband, Don (played by Tobias Menzies of “Underworld: Blood Wars”) and their son, Eliot (Owen Teague of “It”) along with Beth's sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins of “Paint”) and her actor husband, Mark (Arian Moayed of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”) and other friends and relatives.
After writing a successful memoir, Beth writes her first work of fiction, but then has a crisis of confidence when her publisher suggests numerous revisions. Then she overhears her husband, Don, say that he didn't like her new book, despite earlier telling her he liked it. This crisis in Beth's self confidence builds, leading to a conflict with Don.
Don tries to explain that it is more important for him to support Beth's work, by telling her it is good, than it is for him to give his relatively inexpert honest opinion of it. Beth views his praise of her work as lies, and says she can't trust him anymore. A series of discussions and observations leads Beth to conclude that honesty isn't always the best policy when it comes to maintaining relationships.
A similar problem arises with Beth and Don's son, Eliot when he reveals that the constant praise showered upon him by his parents has not been helpful when it comes to measuring himself against others where there is real competition for jobs. Beth's sister, Sarah, experiences similar problems as an interior designer, when dealing with her customers, who often have very different tastes than she does in home furnishings.
Don has similar problems when he begins to find out what some of his patients really think about him, including one couple that demands all their money back from years of what they call worthless counseling. Don learns from his recent experiences with little white lies, and changes his approach to his clients, altering his passive approach by offering more constructive criticism and suggestions.
Sarah's husband, Mark, an actor, has a similar crisis of confidence when he is fired from an acting job. He swears he will quit his acting career, but of course none of his friends or family believe that. Soul-crushing rejections in acting, and rejection letters from publishers, are tough on self confidence.
If I make this movie sound more serious than it is, sorry about that. It is funny, but the humor in it is based in real problems when people try to communicate constructively and get along. Effective humor is often based on similar kinds of problems and situations. I was struck how much this movie is like a Woody Allen comedy because of the New York City setting, and the kinds of characters in it, and that is a good thing. Unlike Woody's darker works, however, there are no harmful or tragic consequences resulting from the conflicts arising in this comedy.
The acting is solid in this movie, and the dialog is witty. The situations are light, smart and funny. The depictions of human behavior in this film are believable, even if they are sometimes exaggerated for comic effect. The movie is also well written and directed. This film rates a B.
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