Romantic, parental relationships at heart of engaging 'Enough Said'
In her last two films, writer-director Nicole Holofcener's sensibility was way off the mark. The characters in Holofcener's Friends With Money and Please Give were distinguished by their fuzzy motivations, unconvincing friendships, and often baffling behavior. But the filmmaker is back on track with Enough Said; her focus is sharper and the results far more rewarding in this wry, engaging, life-sized modern comedy about refreshingly real people. And it doesn't hurt that Holofcener had the wit to cast the late, beloved James Gandolfini in a rare romantic role.
In Enough Said, larger themes of class, money, and privilege that have been obsessing Holofcener lately are relegated to subtext. This time, she moves personal relationships to the forefront—romantic, parental, and marital along with her trademark friendships between women. And as our tour guide into this milieu, she gives us protagonist Julia Louis-Dreyfus, at her most appealing and least snarky, as a long-divorced single mom unexpectedly trying to navigate the dating game at a crossroads in her life.
Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) is a mobile masseuse who schleps her massage table around to the homes of her various clients in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Cheerful and tolerant of her clients' quirks, she's also dreading the imminent departure of her teenage daughter, Ellen (an impressive Tracey Fairaway) to college. For this reason, Eva allows her best girlfriend, Sarah (Toni Collette), and her husband, Will (Ben Falcone), to squire her around to parties in vague hopes of meeting someone to help stave off loneliness in her soon-to-be-empty nest.
At one such event, Eva meets Marianne (Catherine Keener), a professional (and published) poet. The two women hit it off, and Marianne becomes Eva's new client. Eva is dazzled by Marianne's beautiful house, perfect furniture, and excellent taste, and they become fast friends. Meanwhile, Eva also meets big, warm-hearted bear of a man, Albert (Gandolfini), a divorced father whose only daughter is also college bound. Although Eva confesses to a friend that she finds him "kind of fat," he has a deadpan sense of humor similar to hers. They go out together and have a great time.
Albert is an archivist at a television museum and has an encyclopedic knowledge of TV history. ("I was raised like a veal," he says, "put in a dark room and told not to move.") He and Eva share some awkward moments at first, but laughter and their growing affection for each other keeps their budding relationship promising. The only sour note is sounded by Marianne, who can't stop harping on the copious faults of her own ex-husband, and disparaging the very idea of romantic relationships.
Eva maintains a cordial relationship with her own ex (nicely played by Toby Huss in a couple of brief, effective scenes). But in a sneaky and interesting way, the movie begins to be about Eva viewing her romance with Albert through the prism of Marianne's negativity. Eva has sort of a girl-crush on Marianne; she's read her poetry, but doesn't understand it, and somehow assumes Marianne is smarter than she is in all things. It's painful for us and for Albert to see the ways that Eva's little criticisms start chipping away at their closeness, as Holofcener suggests the folly of allowing our friends' opinions to color (and possibly subvert) our own instincts.
Casting is paramount here. Louis-Dreyfus maintains her hold on the viewer's affection, even when Eva strays into wrong-headed, unintentionally hurtful actions; we root for her to get a grip and trust her intuition. The charming Gandolfini copes with these missteps with quiet dignity. The always excellent Keener, Holofcener's longtime muse, strikes a smart balance between gracious and petty as the influential Marianne.
Also effective is the portrait of relationships between parents and children, largely due to a trio of accomplished young actresses. Poised young Fairaway and Louis-Dreyfus generate just enough humor and irritation to feel real as Eva and Ellen. Eve Hewson is memorable as Albert's slightly snobby but loyal daughter, Tess. And fashion-blogging phenom-turned-actress Tavi Gevinson is wonderful as a waifish friend of Ellen's who starts to bond with Eva. Even the suburban tract houses feel authentic in this low-key and enjoyable little film.
ENOUGH SAID ★ ★ ★ (out of four)With Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, and Catherine Keener. Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. A Fox Searchlight release. Rated PG-13. 93 minutes.
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