Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: "Enough Said"

Love is rarely like it is in the movies, except for “Enough Said,” an observant new comedy-drama from writer/director Nicole Holofcener. It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini as middle-aged divorced parents who enter into a tentative little romantic dance. Their relationship is both awkward and magical, and very authentically adult in its ups-and-downs, and side-to-sides.

No incongruous meet-cute, no breathless protestations of affection or other tropes of cinematic romance. Just a funny, faithful look at the real ways in which older, damaged people struggle with being single.

Holofcener has made a career exploring the inner lives of women, while navigating between hefty topics like the way women are afflicted by insecurity (“Lovely & Amazing”) and economic envy/superiority (“Friends with Money,” “Please Give”). I’ve always enjoyed the fact that her female characters are full-blooded and complicated, and her films deal with all their relationships – friends, parents, co-workers – rather than being obsessed with just the romantic ones.

Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a massage therapist with a precocious daughter who’s about to go off to college, which is freaking out the parent way more than the child. While at a dinner party she’s introduced to Albert (Gandolfini), an acerbic-but-warm guy. They hardly hit it off, each joking there’s no one at the party they’re attracted to, but nonetheless they go out on a first date that goes well enough.

Albert isn’t really Eva’s idea of a hottie – bald, a step past paunchy, grizzled and gray. The fact that Eva gives him a chance says something about Eva, and the fact Holofcener would cast the late Gandolfini as a romantic lead says something about her. Eva is willing to embrace a man who is a far throw from her ideal, which is a tacit recognition of her own imperfections.

Their courtship is a portrait of defensiveness that gradually gives way to a deepening bond. Too old to be coy, more wary than hopeful, they slowly let their guards done enough to fall in love.

Then Holofcener throws us a clever twist. The same night she met Albert, she also picked up a new client: Marianne (Catherine Keener), a successful poet. After a few massages they start to bond as friends, talking about their children, dating and divorces. Marianne repeatedly dumps on her ex-husband as an unambitious loser who’s too fat, and lousy in bed to boot.

Then Eva realizes that Albert is Marianne’s ex-husband. So this awful guy she’s been hearing about is actually her new boyfriend.

This sets off a strange love/hate triangle. Eva adores Marianne and Albert, but the fact they despise each other ends up poisoning the way she treats her new boyfriend. She starts making little quips about his undisciplined eating habits and inability to whisper. “Why do I feel like I just spent the evening with my ex-wife?” Albert asks after one acrimonious night out.

Gandolfini, Keener and Louis-Dreyfus both give layered, terrific performances. Ditto for Toni Collette as Eva’s friend, a married woman vexed by her husband and her maid. I also adored the three young actresses playing the daughters and a best friend -- Tracey Fairaway, Eve Hewson and Tavi Gevinson.

Eventually things come to a head, but they don’t go down in a predictable, sitcom-y sort of way. Albert’s reaction in particular is notable for its understated, genuine feel.

“Enough Said” is a funny, sad and heart-warming experience – much like actual, messy family lives. It’s a great catch.

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