Movie review: Enough Said
05:00 AM, Sep 27, 2013
Try as we might, we don’t watch movies in a vacuum.
That’s why it is impossible to separate the wonderful performance by James Gandolfini in Enough Said from the knowledge of his sudden death, at 51, over the summer. There is some heartbreak built into the character, a sweet, charming man who deserves happiness. To think that this is one of Gandolfini’s last performances makes it all the more poignant.
Writer and director Nicole Holofcener typically uses ensembles to tell her stories (Please Give, for instance). Here she concentrates mostly on two characters, and the results are outstanding. As good as Gandolfini’s performance is (and unexpected for fans who know him only from The Sopranos as a charismatic monster), Julia Louis-Dreyfus is just as good in a trickier role. They don’t seem like a natural fit, but in this romantic comedy that actually contains both elements of that equation, that’s the point.
Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a divorced mother who works as a masseuse in Los Angeles. A montage at the beginning of the film of her working with her clients one has bad breath, one talks incessantly about herself, one stands and watches every time as she struggles to drag her table up the stairs to his apartment works as both comic relief and an illustration of her frustrations. Complicating further what seems like an already complicated personality is the impending departure of Eva’s daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) for college back east.
Then there is Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), Ellen’s friend and possible surrogate after Ellen leaves. It’s all charmingly weird.
One night Eva attends a party with her friends Will (Ben Falcone) and Sarah (Toni Collette), a perpetually bickering couple (and quite funny). There she meets Marianne (Catherine Keener, a Holofcener staple), a poet who can fall on either side of the pretentious line, depending on the day (or hour). She seems like a bit much, but she’s got a bad shoulder that needs massage, and she claims to know Joni Mitchell. Eva is taken with her from the start.
Eva also meets Albert (Gandolfini), a TV historian, in what is a far less-promising introduction; both he and she say they’re not attracted to anyone at the party. Which, of course, makes each more attractive to the other. Like Eva, Albert is divorced, and his daughter Tess (Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter) is also heading east for college. Intrigued, Eva and Albert chance a low-risk first date and have a great time.
Eva and Albert begin dating, opening up a little to each other, yet both wielding a sort of wounded cynicism disguised as humor for protection. Meanwhile Eva becomes closer with Marianne, who likes to complain about what a fat loser her ex-husband is and how glad she is to be free of him.
Random chance and coincidence are often deal-breakers in movies, stretching credulity to the breaking point, but by this point Holofcener and her characters have earned a little wiggle room. You may or may not be surprised by developments here, but it doesn’t really matter. What does is the honesty of the characters and the absolute delight it is to spend time with them.
Eva, it turns out, is too easily swayed by the opinions of others, and this will affect her relationships. Her goofy humor has a bitter side that lies just below the surface of her charm. When we see it, we want desperately for her to bury it again, but Holofcener is far too interested in the truth of relationships to cop out so easily.
Louis-Dreyfus manages the difficult trick of keeping us engaged with her character, even while driving us crazy. She’s never been better.
Has Gandolfini? Sure. Tony Soprano is one of the iconic creations in all of popular culture. But he shows a range here, a fragile sweetness, that is as powerful as anything he did on The Sopranos. It is easy and appropriate to mourn his loss. But at least we have the comfort of something as good as Enough Said to sustain us.