The success of Nicole Holofcener’s everyman romantic comedy “Enough Said” is a bittersweet thing. Because so much of the enjoyment stems from a lovely, engaging performance by James Gandolfini that there’s genuine pain with each laugh.
Gandolfini, who passed away not long ago, left us far too early. From this film you can see how fully he was still exploring his craft and finding layers of heart-felt emotions within his characters. He was pushing on in new directions and demonstrating perhaps an even greater range as an actor than hitherto suspected.
His performance here as a divorced, middle-aged father hoping to find love with a like-minded character played extremely well by Julia Louis-Dreyfus is so good you leave the cinema actually feeling you not only know this man named Albert, he’s one of your best friends. The same goes, for that matter, for Louis-Dreyfus’ Eva.
Albert and Eva are an anomaly in American movies — regular people whose most remarkable quality is how unremarkable they are. Each has raised a daughter pretty well given that their first marriages ended badly. And while not making a big thing about it, each would like to plunge into those marital waters again.
Then the writer-director adds a killer twist, one so old that it feels almost new again, and so the comedy and the drama escalate. The story is designed more from the female point of view — it’s largely Eva’s story — but Holofcener gives nearly equal time to Albert and Gandolfini imbues him with a rumpled and relaxed charm that pulls you into the movie.
It’s at a backyard night party — interestingly, no one is certain who is actually throwing it, which is somewhat typical in West L.A., no? — where Eva meets two people who may potentially be key people in her life.
Marianne (Catherine Keener) is a stylish and elegant poet (of all things), who seems destined to not only become a client in Eva’s massage therapy business but a warm, steady friend. Then she meets Albert, an easy-going television archivist (of all things) who shares so many things with her.
One is that both divorced parents are facing empty nests as their daughters head for college. They also share some guilt that they secretly don’t want to lose the companionship of their children.
Eva’s two relationships go as foreseen for a while. She bonds with Marianne and after some hesitation becomes romantically involved with Albert. The only tiny fly in the ointment is that Marianne rags on her ex-husband to excess. Her gloomy portrait of that marriage begins to color (as in darken) Eva’s feelings for Albert.
Meanwhile Eva’s close friend Sarah (Toni Collette), a psychotherapist who might want to consider healing herself first, gives advise that is not always the best. Plus her own stressful marriage to Will (Ben Falcone) hardly serves as any model for what Eva has in store should she take the plunge.
Then comes the twist, which I might as well let you discover for yourself. Eva doesn’t handle it as a mature adult though, but rather as a jittery woman who isn’t wholly convinced the relationship with Albert will go all the way.
In some ways she is closer to her daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) and her transitional period — although instead of college and moving away from home, it’s an empty nest and questioning her attraction to a guy who’s overweight and, yes, careless in some personal habits.
Indeed several young women form subplots that further explore the uncertainties and choices women of all ages face.
Ellen is pulling away from her mom even prior to college while her best friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson) is actually becoming almost a surrogate daughter to Eva. Albert’s snobbish daughter Tess (Eve Hewson, daughter of U2’s Bono) is rude to Eva due to an overly protective attitude towards her dad.
“Enough Said” comes about as close as anyone is going to in setting a Woody Allenesque movie in Los Angeles. People walk and talk as they do in Manhattan but seldom on L.A.’s westside. The emphasis is on relationships and not work or ambitions. And while Holofcener’s characters seem more Waspish than Jewish, they are plagued by neuroses and guilts similar to Woody’s nervous, over-thinking characters.
But the center holds: Dreyfus and Gandolfini feel so natural in these roles that you hate for the film to end. They’re funny with each other — even witty at times — and not unwilling to make fun of their own foibles. Even their quarrels are low-key.
The world of the film is interesting too. No one sends emails. If Eva wants to talk to Albert she goes to his house.
Cell phones play little role and no one seems disconnected from reality due to video games or other electronic gadgets. The love of Albert’s professional life is old television; he cares or knows nothing about today’s.
Holofcener seems to want to establish the old-fashioned virtues of communications and relationships through actual as opposed to virtual contact. (Eva does, however, Skype with Sarah.)
“Enough Said” is like a female version of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Marty” (1955), where people who have nearly given up on the idea of love dare to fall in love anyway. Only they are modern enough to sabotage that love through neurotic, even immature behavior when at least one questions herself.
The film is unusually talky for today’s movies, which since it’s sharp and funny talk is just fine. Holofcener is a good enough dialogue writer to sustain, say, a lengthy first-date dinner conversation or parent-daughter discussions/debates.
The film is without comic action gags; rather the comedy stems from the hearts of its characters without artifice or sitcom moments. So we have this to be grateful for … and a great penultimate performance (“Animal Rescue” will come out next year) by James Gandolfini.
Opens: September 18, 2013 (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Production company: A Likely Story production
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Tavi Gevinson, Ben Falcone, Tracey Fairway, Eve Hewson, Amy Landecker
Director/screenwriter: Nicole Holofcener
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Stephanie Azpiazu
Executive producer: Chrisann Verges
Director of photography: Xavier Grobet
Production designer: Keith Cunningham
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Costume designer: Leah Katznelson
Editor: Robert Frazen
PG-13 rating, 93 minutes