Monday, October 7, 2013
Enough Said (***1/2)
Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Nicole Holofcener goes out of her way to make movies about women, but she has no interest at looking at them through the Nancy Meyers, feminist-lite lens. She just has stories in her head, most of them dealing with women over thirty, and has a way of telling these stories that is both flabbergasting in its effortless portrayal of things that are simply not shown too often in Hollywood movies and terrific in its modesty, not showering itself with praise but instead shaming the audience for even considering any of these tales as "innovative". Her 2001 film, Lovely and Amazing, is one of the best of that decade that contained a spectacular performance from Emily Mortimer that still goes horrifically unseen. Her latest film pegs Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as its muse, and isn't afraid to explore the comedic landscapes that she leads the movie into, and Louis-Dreyfuss is equally unafraid to delve into the film's deeper themes of trying to start from scratch with love when it has burned you down to the foundation.
Louis-Dreyfuss plays Eva, a divorced mother who runs a masseuse business in Los Angeles. She has few excitements in her life outside of her teenaged daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), who has just graduated from high school and will soon go to college on the other side of the country. Eva has one good friend, an Australian psychiatrist named Sarah (Toni Colette), who is often distracted by her own young children and her aloof husband, Will (Ben Falcone). When Sarah and Will invite Eva to a party in Santa Monica, she meets two people that have a big impact on her immediate future. The first is Marianne (Catherine Keener, a Holofcener veteren), a published poet of mild literary celebrity who quickly becomes a prospect for clientele. The second is Albert (James Gandolfini), a grumbling charmer who joins a conversation with Eva about whether or not any of the people at the party are attractive (they say they're not attracted to anyone there).
Eva has some reservations when Albert asks her out - Albert is a very obviously heavy-set gentleman, and aside from that, she hardly knows him. But he has a home-y sensitivity that's highly apparent so she agrees to have dinner with him. At the same time, Marianne becomes another one of her regular customers, meeting weekly. Marianne is also a divorced mother, and her relative fame has shut her out of most social situations. She forcefully pushes herself into a friendship with Eva. Their main point of conversation? Their ex-husbands. Eva isn't a fan of her remarried ex, but Marianne downright despises hers, describing him with repulsive exaggeration that leaves a bad taste in Eva's mouth. As her relationship with the sweet Albert begins to blossom and her friendship with the bitter Marianne strengthens, Eva finds herself incredibly conflicted with two very different viewpoints on romance working their way into her mind.
There's an unbelievable coincidence and realization that happens about halfway through Enough Said that I won't spoil here even if you do see it in all of the trailers. The film's plot has been described as a "television story" by some, which is funny since movie people still consider something like that an insult. It does have certain gimmicks that smack of situational comedy, but considering how well the film does with playing off of the strength of its cast, I would chalk it up to that. Truth be told, I found Enough Said to be a charismatic joy of a movie, telling the story of a middle-aged romance while still making the point that falling in love after the age of forty isn't all that unique. Eva and Albert's eventual romance is sweet and cozy, unfolding in such a comforting way because Holofcener never uses their age as a plot point. It's a love story made for anyone who may be afraid to stick their toe back in the water after they've been hurt.
As the film's lead, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss has what is easily her greatest film performance. She was famously in Seinfeld as part of what is probably the most popular sitcom foursome in the history of television and she's proven herself the only one of the foursome to sustain a career, winning two Emmys for the highly successful HBO show Veep in its last two seasons. Enough Said seems to coronate Louis-Dreyfuss as the comedy legend she always was, but she also follows the script into surprising bittersweet areas that show off a range she was never allowed to showcase in her other vehicles. This is a much harder performance than it may seem. To put forth the confidence needed to be funny while also displaying the vulnerability of the character is a juggling act that often gets overlooked (unless Meryl Streep is the one doing it). She's able to navigate the movie's more sentimental moments with her unending charm, and Holofcener shows implicit trust. It's a performance that should be considered for Oscars, but never will - they'll kick her over a Golden Globe nomination instead.
Gandolfini, who as we know sadly passed away this summer, stars across from Louis-Dreyfuss, amiably matching wits and instills Albert with inherent sweetness without making him an overall puffball. The way he is around the women he loves explains all there is to know about his personality; charming but defensive, loving but too easy to forgive. These were the performances that Gandolfini really excelled at, the big-framed behemoth who was actually a sensitive teddy bear. He was so adept at showing his softer side but with his outward appearance it was always easier to cast him as various versions of Tony Soprano. But in films like The Mexican, Where The Wold Things Are and now Enough Said he was able to really shine as the gentle giant; a man who's physicality was only brought on by his raw emotions. There's been talk of a posthumous Oscar nod for his performance here, which is pretty gross as a movie pundit talking point, but something that I wouldn't mind quite a bit if it were to actually happen.
I've liked some Holofcener movies more than others, with Lovely and Amazing easily being my favorite. The level of filmmaking in her movies always leaves something to be desired (such sloppy editing in this one, twice cutting across rooms so violently that you wonder how much they left out of the scene), and she places most of the onus on the cast to prop up what are usually very solid screenplays. Enough Said is one of her very best. It's supporting performance from Colette is canned, but hilarious; and its depiction of a mother having to deal with the departure of her one and only daughter is downright heartbreaking (scenes involving parents sending their children off to college almost always tend to turn me into a puddle of tears). It felt very true to life for me, despite the gimmicky plot, willing to discuss the complications of relationships and love without depending on the usual points of the romantic comedy. More than anything, it has a wonderful lead performance from Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and that might just be what makes everything else so delightful.