The title of director/writer Nicole Holofcener’s 2001 feature, Lovely & Amazing, is an apt description of her new film, Enough Said, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini. Holofcener’s films, which include Walking and Talking (1996), Friends with Money (2006), and Please Give (2010), tend to be small-scale and quirky. She’s more interested in the ways people struggle with their lives and relationships than she is in plot. That’s not to say her stories aren’t neatly constructed, but that the emphasis is more on character.
Louis-Dreyfus is Eva, a masseuse living in Los Angeles, divorced ten years, with a daughter about to leave for college. Gandolfini is Albert, who works as an archivist at the Library of Television (a job I’d dearly love to have), also divorced and with a daughter heading off to college. Like Eva, he’s anxious about his daughter leaving the nest. They meet, hit it off, and begin a tentative relationship that has its ups and downs, embarrassments and misunderstandings. If you have to categorize it, Enough Said is a romantic comedy, but one that definitely doesn’t follow the usual rom-com predictability.
This is obviously due to the writing and direction, and especially the actors. Eva is the central character — and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is great in the role — but it’s Gandolfini’s presence and performance that really elevates this film. They both bring the weight of having been in two hugely iconic television series, Seinfeld and The Sopranos. They’ve been largely defined by their roles in those shows. Louis-Dreyfus’ Eva may be similar to characters we’ve seen her play before, but Enough Said takes her to dramatic moments that feel painful and real. The acting she does with her face alone in some scenes is amazing.
Gandolfini’s Albert, on the other hand, is about as far from Tony Soprano as one could get. He hasn’t had an opportunity to play a role like this before, someone as gentle and empathetic as he is here. Sure, Tony Soprano could show a sensitive side with Carmela and his assorted girlfriends — or the ducks in his swimming pool — but he could just as easily beat a guy to death and chop him up in the bathtub. He has frequently been cast as gangsters or tough guys, though even there he often brought something extra. Check out his scenes with Patricia Arquette in True Romance (1993) and Julia Roberts in The Mexican (2001). And he created a genuinely sad character with just his voice in Where the Wild Things Are (2009). But he’s something else again in Enough Said. It’s a measure of his talent as an actor that he could bring someone like Albert to life, and make us feel that’s who he’s always been.
It’s ironic that Gandolfini had serious doubts he could play this part, and kept telling director Nicole Holofcener that she should recast it. He said Alec Baldwin would do a much better job. With all due respect to Alec Baldwin, who I like a lot, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Gandolfini in this film. Baldwin would have done a good job, but it would have been quite different. Gandolfini opens himself up emotionally in Enough Said in ways I don’t see that often — though Sean Penn in Milk (2008) comes to mind. When Albert says to Eva, “You broke my heart,” he expresses a painful vulnerability that’s quite moving, and a feeling I’m sure many people can identify with. He’s also really funny. We know Julia Louis-Dreyfus can be comic — that’s what she does — but it’s a revelation to see how relaxed and funny Gandolfini is as Albert. While it’s great seeing him in this film, it’s a bittersweet feeling, since he would have given us so much more.
Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus have great chemistry in Enough Said. It feels genuine in a way that’s hard to fake. They seem to really enjoy being in each other’s company. Albert and Eva connect through humor; it’s a key component of their relationship. Of course, always being funny can be a cover for anxieties and insecurities, and that comes out here, especially with Eva. Eva’s new friend and client, Marianne (played by Catherine Keener, who has been in all of Holofcener’s features), turns out to be Albert’s ex-wife. She doesn’t hesitate to unload detailed accounts of Albert’s many failings to Eva. Once Eva realizes this is the same guy she’s dating, she feels conflicted, but can’t help but keep listening. Problems ensue as Eva tries to handle this information without Albert or Marianne finding out about Eva’s involvement with each of them. This is a contrivance, to be sure, and one that was revealed in all the trailers, so it’s not exactly a spoiler. It could have been farcical or forced, but the movie’s too smart for that. I think the way it plays out works, and that’s what counts.
This is a film about relationships. Toni Collette and Ben Falcone are very good as Sarah and Will, Eva’s close friends, whose marriage is spiked with passive aggression — maybe a warning about relationships? A fair amount of time is devoted to Eva’s fears and anxieties about her daughter, Ellen, going off to college on the East Coast. Tracey Fairaway is excellent as Ellen, as is Tavi Gevinson as her best friend, Chloe. These characters seem like real people rather than plot points. The scene where Eva and her ex-husband see Ellen off at the airport is as strong as it gets. The emotion is powerful and authentic. Holofcener gives the scene, and the entire movie, room to breathe. — Ted Hicks
Manohla Dargis’ sharp appraisal of James Gandolfini’s feature film career from The New York Times.
Interview with Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Enough Said, playing a masseuse, and working with James Gandolfini.
A clip of Nicole Holofcener talking about Enough Said:
Though it’s been referred to as Gandolfini’s final film, he has one more scheduled for release in 2014, Animal Rescue, a crime drama.
We saw Enough Said at an advance screening at the Museum of the Moving Image here in New York a few days before it opened. Afterward, there was a terrific Q&A with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicole Holofcener, and producer Anthony Bregman, moderated by Chief Curator David Schwartz. Q&A sessions always add a lot to the experience, and this was no exception.