Nicole Holofcener’s mature romantic comedy Enough Said is going to be tough for a lot of people to take; certainly not because the film is bad, but instead because of what it represents. The film marks the final lead performance by the late James Gandolfini, who passed away all too soon earlier this year, and in a lot of ways his astounding performance seems like a career turning point, the start of something new and promising that we unfortunately will never get to see fulfilled. Paired up with the always-wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gandolfini is the heart and soul of a wonderfully funny and incisive film about giving love a second chance.
Holofcener’s prior explorations of the quirks of rich and clueless aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and certainly I have no fondness for mean-spirited films such as Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money, and Please Give. Whatever one thinks of her body of work, she crafts well-made human comedies that emphasize character above all else. And so it’s a real treat to see Louis-Dreyfus have a chance to flex her dramatic muscles in her first leading film role in sixteen years. She plays Eva, a divorced single mom staring down the barrel of middle age and facing the prospect of an empty house as her daughter Ellen prepares for college. At this point all she has left are her job as a masseuse, her married best friends Sarah (Toni Collette) and Will (Ben Falcone), and a lot of loneliness in her future.
Suffice it to say, life hasn’t quite worked out the way Eva planned, and she’s thrown another curveball when another chance at love turns up in the most unlikely of places and with the most unlikely person. Encouraged by her friends to get back out there on the dating scene, Eva hits a party where she meets two people who will immediately jumpstart her flagging social life. The first is Marianne (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener), a poet with a rough exterior who quickly becomes Eva’s friend and top client. The other is Albert (Gandolfini), a charming, quick-witted bear of a man with a thick beard and perma-grin who immediately takes a liking to her. Eva is less impressed, and recognizes that Albert isn’t someone she would normally even look at. But their chemistry is undeniable, and they bond over their similar sob stories and mutual “empty nest” syndrome. Soon, Eva and Albert are inseparable, but of course trouble is right around the corner.
It turns out that Albert is Marianne’s ex-husband, with neither knowing that they share Eva as a mutual acquaintance. Rather than nipping this potentially awkward situation in the bud after she puts the pieces together, Eva decides to stay quiet and play the middle. It affords her the chance to listen to Marianne go into detail about all of Albert’s annoying quirks, and potentially protect herself from future heartbreak. The side effect is that it begins to color her judgment of Albert, losing sight of why she fell for him in the first place.
Yes, it’s a completely outrageous sitcom predicament and one that most filmmakers would be content to pull a few laughs out of and nothing more. But Holofcener sees it as an opportunity for a deft exploration of men and women of a certain age who have seen the harsh side of falling in love. Eva and Albert’s hopeful/cautious first steps together are presented in measured doses of humor and raw emotional intimacy. Albert is basically a big dork; clumsy, uncoordinated, sweaty, and not at all comfortable around a beautiful woman like Eva. He wears his sweats on dates, talks too loud at the movies, and is a train wreck in bed. But he’s also sincere, honest, and fiercely loyal to Eva right from the beginning. It’s that loyalty, along with a willingness to simply be himself, which prove to be what attracts Eva in the first place and turns out to be exactly what she was looking for. Unfortunately that also makes it more painful when she begins to harp on his flaws. The hurt he feels at her betrayal is palpable. And yet, we can’t totally write off Eva, either. Her ex-husband openly admits that he thinks they never should have been married in the first place, and it’s something Eva doesn’t want to see repeated with Albert. She does literally everything wrong in an attempt to shield herself from heartbreak, but it’s a mistake we can understand.
A comedic marvel whose skills have been perfected to a razor sharp edge, Louis-Dreyfus is utterly irresistible as Eva. Holofcener’s keen observational sense of humor makes for the perfect match for her, while affording plenty of opportunities to display her rarely-seen dramatic side. She and Gandolfini make for an endlessly lovable pair, and he gets to show a softer, more sensitive side than we ever saw on The Sopranos. We’ve never seen him be this down-to-earth, this….normal, shedding every ounce of the tough guy shtick that has been heaped upon him in film after film. Gandolfini was a warm-hearted guy by nature, and every bit of that shines through in a role that feels so comfortable, so genuine, delivering the finest performance of his career. If only we could have seen where it would lead him next.
Hopefully the chance to see Gandolfini will be enough to lure in those who wouldn’t normally seek a film like this out. After all there are no car wrecks, space aliens, or superpowers anywhere in sight. A superbly acted, well-crafted dramedy like Enough Said doesn’t come around nearly often enough, but when it does it should be celebrated.