Los Angeles Film Festival 2011
By Don Simpson | July 18, 2011
Writer: Steve Collins
Starring: John Merriman, Courtney Davis, Macon Blair, Lily Collins, Violet Collins
Writer-director Steve Collins’ (Gretchen) You Hurt My Feelings begins in the winter as John (John Merriman) takes care of two young girls — Lily (Lily Collins) and Violet (Violet Collins). John’s rapport with the toddlers is not quite fatherly. It is more like that of a favorite uncle — someone with whom the girls can climb all over and play doctor, someone who is willing to make compromises with the girls in the hope that they will listen to his commands when necessary. As it turns out, John is a male nanny, a job that serves two purposes for him: a source of income in a dire economic environment and a desperate ploy to win his ex-girlfriend Courtney (Courtney Davis) back.
Courtney — a disgruntled waitress with some seemingly hefty emotional baggage — has already moved on to Macon (Macon Blair). Though Macon comments to John that they are similar enough to be brothers, there is nothing further from the truth. John is a walking blob of somberness and gentle tranquility; Macon is a playful yet irresponsible drunk, eternally happy and boyishly charming. After jump-starting John’s awkwardly stalled vehicle (a metaphor for John’s life), Macon begins man-crushing on John. The two men get wasted together at a local bar and John ends up having to babysit Macon just like he does Lily and Violet. A bizarre love triangle commences with John and Macon lackadaisically competing for Courtney and Macon vying for John’s friendship.
John repeatedly tries and fails to wrangle Lily and Violet, just as he seems unable to gather control of his life in general. Happiness (and the kids) is always just out of his reach and unresponsive to his pleading calls. Brief spurts of happiness — a fun day at the beach, a drunken late-night swim in a random backyard pool, watching Courtney choose a wedding dress — are random hiccups in the overall downward trajectory of John’s life. Seasons may change as the world turns, but it seems John’s hopes for change have been flattened. We often watch John — perpetually riddled with worry, guilt and inadequacy — as he lays flat on the ground, staring hopelessly at the ceiling or into space.
An example of in medias res, Collins’ film begins and ends almost mid-thought and the scenes in between appear to be aimless and random; but Collins aptly binds the narrative together as a cohesive whole by emotion and imagery alone. Impressionistically lensed by Putty Hill cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier, You Hurt My Feelings takes its audience through the emotional kaleidoscope of the four seasons; though visually stunning, the images are just as economically restrained as the wallets of the characters. Collins has developed a narrative that circumvents all dramatic plot points — an injury that results in a neck brace, a wedding engagement, an illness and death, countless arguments and break-ups — assuming that the audience will fill in the blanks. Only the emotional aftermath remains. You Hurt My Feelings internally portrays its characters’ senses of despair and isolation; like a silent film (Merriman probably has less than a page of dialogue, Davis and Blair have significantly less), feelings are never expressed verbally, only via the actors’ rich expressions.