As Etta James might say: at last. A romantic comedy that is romantic and funny and not simply an insult to the intelligence of all carbon-based life forms. Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said is a step up for this director, in whose previous work I have sometimes heard a few false notes – inaudible, I should however confess, to many others. She has created a thoroughly likable and genuinely funny film and its stars, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, are a revelation, singly and together. Like their director, they unassumingly but decidedly took it to the next level on this movie. The fact that Gandolfini still had so much to offer as an actor is desperately sad.
Enough Said is about what love means in middle age and what it means to decide that some other divorced person is The One, or rather The New One, when the rational side of you knows that this person must surely be culpable, at least in part, for the death of their previous relationship. They must have awful habits that sunk the first marriage – habits that will only become clear once you have made a commitment to them. And by the same token, you too must have relationship-killing tendencies. Is the triumph of hope over experience a viable thing to wish for, the second time around?
Louis-Dreyfus plays a physical therapist called Eva, while Gandolfini is Albert. They meet at a swanky party and there is a connection: both are divorced and facing the same kind of loneliness; each lives with a grownup daughter who is about to leave home for college. But the comic frisson that sparks the film into life is something that predates this scenario – it’s the initial hallucination or optical illusion: when Elaine Benes met Tony Soprano!
Holofcener is clearly aware of the baggage these actors bring to the movie, and even playfully pre-empts and undermines our expectations by making Albert an archivist in an audio-visual library of TV classics. He supervises a viewing area where people watch TV gems on video with headphones. Albert can recite what was on TV on any given day in the 1970s but says, tongue in cheek, that he is not interested in contemporary television.
In fact, Enough Said’s great second-act plot development has a Seinfeldian ingenuity, and the comic discomfort surrounding a vocal tic of Albert’s is something Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David might have been proud to have written. In her scene pointing out this appalling tic at a dinner party, Louis-Dreyfus is very funny, with all of Elaine’s satirically wide-eyed astonishment and incredulity and theatrically suppressed laughter, but with a new undertow of sadness.
As for Gandolfini, he only becomes Sopranoesque, with that menacing deadness of eye, at a dark stage towards the end, and then not for long. The rest of the time he is quite different, and Enough Said brings home how much other directors have been in thrall to his small-screen mobster creation. Even Gandolfini’s performance in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly opposite Brad Pitt, though a great piece of work, was an obvious variation on the Soprano theme. But here he seems reserved, droll, self-deprecating, a thoughtful and even cerebral figure. That trademark Gandolfini mannerism, the laborious nasal wheezing, is almost entirely absent, though Holofcener cleverly alludes to this by having Eva ask him about it in bed. Albert just shrugs and says he broke his nose a couple of times.
Albert and Eva’s relationship has to be negotiated within a tricky network of loyalties. Eva knows people like Sarah (Toni Collette) and Marianne (Catherine Keener), who for various reasons are flawed as confidantes. She has her daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) – but she is about to leave home and is looking forward to emotional independence, and is moreover baffled and irritated at Eva’s new quasi-maternal friendship with her best friend, Chloe (Tavi Gevinson). This is not really a supportive female chorus: it is just something making Eva’s life more complicated than it already is.
After Nora Ephron, it hasn’t been clear who will take over the grownup rom-com mantle: Nancy Meyers has looked far too escapist, with lovelorn fantasies that seem to exist only for the smugly wealthy. With Enough Said, it looks like Holofcener is a contender. This film is a smart and winning story about what is involved in the painful re-illusionment of middle-aged love.