Gandolfini, Louis-Dreyfus shine in smart, warm comedy
Fans of HBO’s Sex and the City may remember an episode in which the four protagonists attend a singles party to which they are each supposed to bring someone they dated, but ultimately rejected, the theory being that one woman’s trash, if you will, can just as easily be another’s treasure. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener, who coincidentally penned a few episodes of SATC (as well as the indies Friends with Money and Lovely and Amazing), has taken that idea and, in her new film Enough Said, expanded it to a full length feature, with a twist: what if you are dating your friend’s ex, but your friend actually has absolutely nothing kind to say about him? Holofcener’s take on this premise is by turns exceptionally funny, wryly intelligent, emotionally honest, and genuinely moving.
Emmy-winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, Veep) plays Eva, a divorced masseuse and loving mother who inadvertently discovers that she is dating her new client’s ex-husband. How and why this situation comes to be unfolds smartly, a credit to Holofcener’s script, since such a predicament could easily have felt like a ridiculous plot device. But Albert (James Gandolfini of Sopranos fame, who passed away in June), similarly middle-aged and divorced, is charming and sweet, and both he and Eva have daughters who are about to leave for college. The fact that these two would bond over the fears and anxieties of becoming empty-next parents makes sense, and Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus also have terrific chemistry. Gandolfini gets to showcase his playful, comedic side, which balances nicely with Louis-Dreyfus’s exceptional comic timing and delivery.
When Eva’s friendship with her client Marianne (Catherine Keener, always a pleasure), a poet prone to bashing her ex, deepens, however, Eva finds herself in an incredibly awkward situation once she realizes Albert is Marianne’s ex. Should Eva come clean, or stay quiet, and continue to absorb Marianne’s harsh criticism of Albert? How much will Marianne’s critiques influence Eva’s own perceptions of Albert, as well as their relationship?
Holofcener thus deftly explores an issue universal to anyone who has ever loved and lost, and one that is especially relevant to men and women of a certain age, who, yes, have baggage in the form of exes, kids, failed marriages, and co-parenting schedules, but who also have hope for a second chance at love. Just because Marianne can’t stand Albert, and just because Eva’s marriage didn’t work out, does that mean they are damaged so much that they can never find love again? Holofcener’s rumination on this question is comically inspired, and never feels false – from Marianne still kvetching four years post-divorce about how Albert eats guacamole, to Eva quarrelling with her ex-husband Peter (Toby Huss) over ordering more bread at their daughter’s graduation dinner, to Eva’s bittersweet reflections while looking at her wedding album, these characters feel familiar and real as their emotional wounds and insecurities surface. We empathize as we laugh and cry with them.
A few side-plots involving Eva’s relationship with her daughter’s friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson) and her friend Sarah (Toni Collette, exasperated and funny), don’t feel extraneous, but, on the contrary, help us to better see the characters and their emotional nuances and needs, and actually echo the movie’s themes of love, loss, and belonging. The conflicting pride and worry that both Eva and Albert feel at letting their daughters head out into the world is dealt with especially well.
The role of Albert was one of Gandolfini’s last starring film roles (the crime drama Animal Rescue, opening in 2014, will mark his final film appearance), and to see him on screen in this film is bittersweet, as we can see both his extensive range as an actor, and the potential the entertainment industry has lost. Although Tony Soprano will forever be Gandolfini’s signature role, Enough Said shows that he was capable of more than just the Italian tough guy roles that had become his mainstay. Albert is Tony Soprano’s antithesis: mild, sweet, a touch insecure, but warm-hearted, funny, and sensitive. Adding to the poignancy of viewing Gandolfini in this film, though, is the fact that many of the other characters comment on Albert’s excessive weight and poor eating habits, bits that, at the time she wrote them, Holofcener probably just thought seemed funny and appropriate to the script, but now, after Gandolfini’s death from a heart attack at 51, feel eerily prescient and not funny at all, but sad in their poignancy.
Also slightly ironic is the fact that Albert is employed as a TV archivist, cataloging and maintaining old episodes of television shows. You have to think that Holofcener gave Albert this profession in winking acknowledgement of Gandolfini’s and Louis-Dreyfus’s iconic TV roles. Gandolfini even has a scene where he shows Eva around Albert’s workplace, eloquently explaining to her his love of old TV shows. Such rhapsodizing seems even more fitting now, as we listen to Gandolfini as Albert, and realize that he has become part of the very history about which he is speaking.
But aside from featuring one of Gandolfini’s last performances, Enough Said is worth seeing simply for its pleasures as a smart, lovely, very funny picture about connections both familial and romantic, and the ways in which we may sabotage our chances at love by listening to others instead of ourselves. Enough said, indeed.
Enough Said opens in Bay Area theaters today.