Sunday, October 20, 2013

Enough Said

The career of the writer/director Nicole Holofcener is an unusual and precious thing in American movies. Since her 1996 debut Walking and Talking, Holofcener has reemerged every three or four years with another smart, well-acted, female-driven drama that's grounded in emotional reality. Holofcener is one of a very small number of major filmmakers of either gender who seems interested in how 21st century Americans relate to each other, and her new Enough Said demonstrates that her talent is only deepening. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the most substantial film role of her career) is a divorced L.A. masseuse whose days are filled with work and worry over her daughter Ellen's (Tracey Fairaway) impending departure for college. Eva is an attentive Mom with a slight need to be the cool parent; her advice to Ellen's friend Chloe (Tavi Gevenson, trying to transition into acting after becoming known for fashion blogging) about a boyfriend is something that most parents wouldn't say to a child who wasn't theirs. During an evening out with friends Eva is introduced to Albert (James Gandolfini), who will become her boyfriend, and to a poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener, who has worked with Holofcener since Walking and Talking) who will become a client and confidant. Albert and Marianne used to be married. Then things get complicated.

I hope that James Gandolfini enjoyed playing Albert, because he is very good in the role and he demonstrates once again that there was so much more to him than just Tony Soprano. Gandolfini performs with great dignity, making Albert a man who's comfortable in his own habits but still has a strong need to connect. Albert's weight is an issue in the movie, and Gandolfini (like Louis-Dreyfus and Keener as well) isn't afraid to appear either physically or behaviorally unattractive on screen. Holofcener has a gift for getting vanity-free performances out of her cast, but when the (often very funny) writing is this good then actors are happy to play along. As good as Gandolfini is, Enough Said belongs to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The movie is a little coy at first about the ways in which Eva is a mess, but as her relationship deepens with Albert she's also unable to let go of the friendship with Marianne despite the fact that Marianne will run down Albert at every turn. There's a tricky speech that Holofcener writes Eva near the end in which she tries to justify her behavior, but Albert gets to call her out on her duplicity. It's a moment when Eva could look either monstrous or stupid, but Louis-Dreyfus nails the scene. Enough Said is, at its heart, a movie about the different kinds of holes people need to fill. Old wounds are exposed in a marvelous dinner scene that brings Eva together with her ex (Toby Huss) and their friends (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone). It's the kind of moment that happens every day in real life but that movies almost entirely miss, and it's refreshing to see Holofcener find it here. There's so much in Enough Said that Holofcener almost doesn't have time to explore it all. Albert and Eva's relationship is played with a very sweet tentativeness, but there's also the full lives of the two teenage girls and a subplot (which reminded me of Holofcener's Friends With Money) about Collette's character being unable to communicate with her maid. Enough Said doesn't end so much as it stops and that's not a bad thing here, since Nicole Holofcener is so skilled at creating rich, full on screen lives for her characters that will continue long after the credits have rolled.

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