Enough Said (13, B-) – Originally completed 6/6/17

It is so rare, I think, to watch a movie and be able to pinpoint the single thing that could be removed to the benefit of the entire project. Usually there’s a handful of flaws that are symptomatic of a misconstrued blueprint, like the inherent emptiness in everything The Wolf of Wall Street is about and depicts, or the shearing of so much of the risky edges that made August: Osage County such a rich prospect for a film adaptation. There’s a lot in Enough Saidthat’s special in how it textures its romance, not just in how Nicole Holofcener directs and scripts everything but in how Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini play their characters. There’s a lot that’s also special in how both characters relate to their daughters, their daughter’s friends, and their exes. But the real snag is that Dreyfuss’s Eva also has a pretty odd relationship with Gandolfini’s wife, who she learns is one of her massage clients after the two already spent plenty of time talking about their shit ex-husbands, which radically changes how Dreyfuss interacts with Gandolfini’s Albert in spite of the fantastic time they’d been having together until then. The heaviness of this contrivance, that Dreyfuss had been conspiratorial in degrading the worst possible version of her boyfriend instead of a guy who sounds remarkably like the man she’s dating, and continues to mine Marianne for stories so that she can get “a better idea” about him, is a real burden on the film that can’t quite quash everything else that’s rich about the project, though that may ultimately be a bigger testament to Gandolfini’s performance than any recuperations in the script, especially in its most awkward phases. But even that isn’t enough to quash what’s unique and exciting in Enough Said, in its central relationship and in how its performers realize those part. It’s still a lovely rom-com realized with a light touch and mature sensibilities, even if it’s increasingly bogged by an unnecessary story conceit.

For about the first half hour, at least, the film is a complete delight as we see the relationship between Eva and Albert start to develop, moving from its awkward early stages into real bonding over their divorces, their daughters about to be sent off to college, and their middle-agedness in relation to their own lives and their disconnect with the current youth culture. Even before that we get a glimpse of Eva’s daily life as a masseuse, of her friendship with couple Ben Falcone and Toni Colette, finally allowed to use her native Australian accent. We also see her relationship with her college-bound daughter Ellen and Ellen’s best friend Chloe, a year younger than her and seemingly closer with Eva than Ellen is, as practically every one of her scenes in meant to remind us. I don’t mean this as an inherent dig on those scenes, which build into an interesting relationship between the three as Ellen’s college-bound reclusiveness sees her mom seemingly start replacing her with her best friend. Albert and Eva’s newest client Marianne enter Eva’s life within minutes of each other at the same party, Marianne in a very pleasant conversation and Albert in a somewhat awkward one, as Ben Falcone’s Will tells Albert and another friend how Eva doesn’t believe there’s anyone attractive at the party, which Albert agrees with. He later asks Eva out on a date, which is as about as surprising to Eva as it is when Marianne actually makes an appointment for a massage. Eva bonds with Marianne while discussing their ex-husbands, their daughters, Eva’s other clients, and how nice Marianne’s house and lifestyle is.

Meanwhile, Eva and Albert bond over their daughters and their divorces, but also about being middle-aged, how they do and don’t understand their children, the loudness of the restaurant they’re eating at, and their own personal affinities, anxieties, and peccadilloes. It’s occasionally awkward, but also incredibly charming and hilarious, and their conversations are genuinely revealing of character and form a real bond between them. As Eva relates to Marianne later, they never stopped talking the entire date, and they don’t stop talking, flirting, or joking in most of their subsequent dates. These aren’t the interactions of two fundamentally lonely people, just two adults who haven’t been romantically close in a long time who are trying to feel their way around semi-familiar territory, even as they get more comfortable with each other. Chloe stopping by and ending up having breakfast with the couple is just as strengthening a moment for the two as the terrible lunch they have with Albert’s daughter Tess. The absolute best moment in the film, a horrified line reading of “oh my god” from Gandolfini, comes after said terrible dinner. And in these scenes of courtship Dreyfuss and Gandolfini shine, filling out their characters with warmth and wit while wearing them as comfortably as the blanket Eva is trying to finish knitting. Line readings, physical gestures, and darting eyes all speak volumes as the two navigate their relation while it blossoms with every new step they take together. Their time together is sweet, and you root for them as they become even more entwined in each other’s lives.

And then we learn that Albert is, in fact, the fabled ex-husband Marianne had been talking about this whole time. Eva’s face turns into a quietly terrified grimace, as did mine, before she hides behind a tree from Tess, which I could not do. What she does not do, unfortunately, is come clean and terminate her working relationship with Marianne for the sake of her relationship, instead choosing to mine her for information she can get on Albert and find out what, exactly, is wrong with him. What’s worse, frankly, is that the film almost completely corroborates the specific grievances Marianne has against him, judging him for his peculiarities in a way it does not her. I don’t mind that Albert is put to task for the ways he may not be appealing to Eva, or even the way she finds this out, necessarily. But in scene after scene, as Eva seems to lose all perspective on Albert beyond what his ex-wife says, the film doesn’t at all do anything to contradict Marianne after all these years of divorce or show that Albert has grown in any way past the deficits she’s ascribed to him. Eva’s decision to spy on him this way is scrutinized, sure, but the film just can’t respond to the scale of her betrayal the way it can to individual instances of her acting sketchy, like trotting out Albert to a couple’s dinner with Falcone and Colette’s characters only to drunkenly try and get them to agree with all the dislikes she’s inherited from Marianne. The actual confrontation with Albert and Tess at Marianne’s house where everyone learns what Eva has been doing is not just awkward and embarrassing for the characters, but for Holofcener’s writing to boot. Aside from the clunky insults she gives Eva as she feels her way around Albert, she just cannot address Eva’s decision with the gaze that Eva scrutinizes Albert. Dreyfuss herself plays Eva perfectly fine in the last hour, rooting the character in small gestures and glances without overplaying it. She survives the least plausible of Eva’s actions better than the character does, giving her decisions emotional logic without even the film’s rom-com logic. It would have been a better film, I think, had it stayed about a woman becoming unsure about her relationship based on the horror stories of another woman who’d dealt with a somewhat similar man, rather than one about two women dealing with the same man, and one using the other for information in ways that cannot help but hurt him and herself.

Thank God for Gandolfini, though, who manages to play Albert so delicately that he survives the seeming onslaught against his character. It’s not that he plays against anything we’re told about Albert so much as he underplays those tendencies without shoving any one aspect of the character, positive or negative, under our nose or as a “central” trait of him. More than that, he is as unembarrassed of his character as Albert is of himself, and fuses all of his traits into the lived-in habits of a middle-aged man. Though I’ve criticized Holofcener’s writing of how Eva addresses Albert and how the film address *that*, she is adept at giving him ground to stand on when it comes time to defend himself, and is particularly generous to him in the film’s first half hour, gifting him the kind of traits male writers don’t usually give male characters. His first meeting with Eva at the party, where he responds to being told she thinks no man at this party is attractive by saying he doesn’t think any women are that attractive here either, is not written or played as a bruised insult, but as a deflation to the awkward tone that the original statement had set for the conversation. His own handling of his daughter dissing Ellen’s choice of college is not a reprimand to Tess but a rescue line to get this child to stop insulting his new girlfriend’s daughter. The remarkable openness of Albert’s conversations with Eva is matched by how equally nervous they both are about it, and his stunned, wounded goodbye to her once he learns what she’s done is all the more heartbreaking for how earnest, warm, and bravely on the line he’d put himself out of her. The horrific idea of casting John C. Reily in the part, someone who’s made a career on stooging out against simpleton characters, also shows that Holofcener makes Albert so simply decent that his actor would have to really work to sell him out. Neither the part nor the film would work if the actor also invited us to judge Albert, either positively or negatively, and there’s a real possibility we could’ve spent the last hour wondering what on Earth would make Eva even bother with him, or him put up with her. But Gandolfini takes everything on the page for that character and burnishes him with real feeling, gruff sincerity, and a delicate sweetness that fills every inch of his plus-sized frame. The test of any rom-com character, I think, is if you’d fall in love with them too, and on this ground Gandolfini hits a remarkable bullseye without working to hard to sell or defend his character. He lets the man be himself, and it’s lovely

There are other pleasures on the sidelines of Enough Said in how older couples relate to past and present marriages: A woman celebrating a two year anniversary talks about how perfect her first husband was without the second getting jealous, remarking plainly why she isn’t still married; Eva asking her husband what he tells people when they ask why he got divorced; his perfect response; the way Toni Colette cannot stop wondering what her second husband would be like until the first suddenly says what he finds lacking in their relationship. There’s a little too much hanging around that doesn’t need to be there, mostly an arc about Colette failing to fire a maid who may not be as inept as she seems, though we probably don’t need as many scenes of Eva doing something with Chloe and Ellen walking in halfway and feeling betrayed about it. Her goodbye, as Eva and her husband leave her at the airport as she flies off to college, is surprisingly poignant, and here I give credit to all three of the young actresses Holofcener is working with here. The film’s final scene, as Eva shows up to Albert’s house on Thanksgiving and makes a last, small plea to give it another shot, ends on a delightful note as the two sit on his porch together, having made a step towards reconciliation. I admire both characters for being willing to go forward in spite, or perhaps because, of all the messiness that had led them to breaking up in the first place, and theirs is a reunion that I earnestly hope would last once the credits finish rolling

I wonder how much more I would’ve liked Enough Said had it not gone with the conceit it sold itself on, and let Eva’s fears be premised on the anxieties of someone whose situation is similar to hers without being hers specifically, the way Gena Rowlands relates to the depression of Mia Farrow’s character in Another Womandespite only ever hearing her grievances through an air duct. Furthermore, I wonder if I could’ve even liked it with a better-executed version of its actual premise. The Lady Eve, which features a conwoman convincing the same man to fall in love with her twice, is certainly ripe for an excavation of its problematic elements, yet the trickery there never bothered me anywhere near as much as it did here. For sure, Preston Sturgess is a better director than Nicole Holofcener, shaping his scenes more carefully, and he handles the conceit of his film more carefully than she does. Even if the joke is always on Henry Fonda’s astoundingly silly mark, he is not treated with the same scrutiny that Albert is, and the ways Albert is scrutinized aren’t too fair to him. Barbara Stanwyck’s witty, lovestruck crook is given as much love and attention by her writer/director as Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’s witty, lovestruck masseuse, and The Lady Eve’s tone and style certainly build itself around the reprehensible things she does, but it’s a film that’s designed to handle her foibles much better than Enough Said does Eva’s.

Ultimately, what we’re left with is a pretty decent movie with some pretty obvious potential to make itself a much better film with not that much effort, and perhaps even less than it even exerts. So attuned it is to its central character that her joys are our joys, her anxieties are our anxieties, and when she’s making an ass of herself, I felt she was too. It’s very best scenes feel like unicorns in romantic comedies, so candid and finely-attuned to the wants and concerns of adults on the very real precipice of being alone, and hitting it off remarkably with someone they didn’t expect to get along with in the slightest. Dreyfuss and Gandolfini do remarkable work, though she is as hampered by Holofcener’s plot contrivances as he is bolstered by it, and his is a much harder task that he pulls off with such grace. I’d happily sit through more films in this age bracket, rather than 30-somethings that typically inhabit the genre, or the 60 and 70 somethings who are usually seen as a refresher from all the 30-somethings. They are, but still. 50-somethings are a rare subject for any film nowadays, though I imagine the maturity and sensibilities on display here are trademarks of Holofcener’s work. I’m excited to trawl through the rest of her filmography soon, and even if it’s a flawed object, Enough Said is a welcome introduction to Holofcener’s works and a fine, if improvable, piece of filmmaking all on its own.

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