When writer-director Nicole Holofcener approached James Gandolfini about starring in “Enough Said,” he told her she’d made a bad decision: She really wanted someone like his buddy Alec Baldwin.
She didn’t listen. The result is one of the most honest recent comedies about romances that flourish, marriages that totter and the difficulties of raising children with the right blend of respect, discipline and support.
Fox Searchlight has given away the film’s lone implausible coincidence in its marketing, one so big I blurted, “NO!” when it came. (That’s why I don’t read advance publicity: I like surprises, even off-putting ones.)
Masseuse Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) meets potential boyfriend Albert (Gandolfini) and befriends massage client Marianne (Catherine Keener) at roughly the same time. Weeks later, as Eva weighs Albert’s virtues and drawbacks, she learns Albert is the ex-husband about whom Marianne carps incessantly.
If you can swallow that, the rest of the film goes down pleasantly and even nutritiously: As someone said coming out of the screening, “Anyone with an ex-husband or ex-wife should see this.” Those of us without that qualification learn something about friends who shed one marital skin and perhaps assumed another.
Except for Marianne, who’s rather cranky to be the empathetic poet others say she is, every character in the film suffers from the same problem: insecurity, in degrees ranging from unsettling to crippling.
Eva’s daughter (Tracey Fairaway) remains jealous of her needy best friend (Tavi Gevinson), who claims a big chunk of Eva’s attention. Albert worries rightly that his weight and sloppy lifestyle might put a woman off. (They ruined Marianne’s feelings for him.) Eva’s pal Sarah (Toni Collette), a therapist wed to a pleasant dolt, constantly rearranges furniture to create a satisfying physical order in her life.
Eva seeks approval for her choices from all women, so Marianne’s poisonous recollections of Albert color her own impression of him. This story could have turned into a whinefest, but Holofcener’s wry sense of humor keeps us smiling at everyone’s foibles.
Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini are well-matched: They’re the same age (both born in 1961) and, though the movie’s set in California, come off as the self-deprecating types we associate more with a certain kind of New Yorker. (Louis-Dreyfus was born there; Gandolfini was born 15 miles away.) Gandolfini once called himself a 260-pound Woody Allen, and that’s what we get here.
But Holofcener has more affection for supporting characters than Allen does, and she balances the slate: Neither men nor women, parents nor children come off as entirely positive or negative. Even the snobbish daughter of Albert and Marianne (Eve Hewson) may be passing through a phase that will end when she gets to college.
Some of Holofcener’s fans are complaining that the film lacks the satiric sting of her other pictures, that she has sold out to achieve a wider audience. (She has directed just five features, all starring Keener, in 17 years.) But I think she has achieved the wisdom at 53 to look on human frailties with amusement, rather than anger, and “Enough Said” digs as deeply as ever into people’s psyches.
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