movie review

Edelstein: James Gandolfini Is Heartbreakingly Good in Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said


Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said is her most conventional and audience-friendly comedy since her first, Walking and Talking. It’s a love story in which a slim, pretty, divorced masseuse named Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus in what has always been the “Catherine Keener role”) meets and falls for Albert (James Gandolfini), the overweight curator of a Los Angeles vintage-TV-show museum. The problem is that Eva doesn’t trust her own judgment about Albert. She keeps sounding out her family and friends, among them her old pal Sarah (Toni Collette) and new pal (and client), a poet named Marianne (Keener). Eva doesn’t just want opinions. She wants knowledge. She wants to know in advance where the land mines will be — which of course has a way of steering her right into the biggest explosive of all.

I miss the ensemble fullness and quirky pacing of Holofcener’s Friends with Money and Please Give, but there are enough dissonances, parentheticals, and curlicues to remind you why her movies are like no other’s. Her theme, meanwhile, emerges with unusual clarity. The first clue is how strangers talk, in a series of would-be witticisms and non sequiturs that barely cover the sound of the wheels grinding in their heads. Holofcener has a squirm-comic’s love of the awkward and out-of-sync — mixed with a humanist’s faith in the ultimate connection. One of the sweeter exchanges in all the director’s films is after Eva and Albert have finally gone to bed with each other. She says, “I’m tired of being funny,” and he says, “Me, too.” But a short time later, they’re funny again. They still don’t trust themselves just to be. Also, they’re funny people.

There’s a key moment when they Eva and Albert first have dinner: Albert muses it would be easier to date people with signs around their necks listing their bad qualities, and Eva asks, “What would yours say?” That’s one of Louis-Dreyfus’s best moments: She tries to pose the question lightly but her attempted smile freezes in place, showing a core of frightened seriousness. The performance is a breakthrough. I admit that from time to time I’d recast her in my mind with Keener, Holofcener’s onscreen alter-ego for so long that the two have effectively merged. What Louis-Dreyfus brings is a faster motor, which means both peerless farcical timing and a way of making you cringe at Eva’s attempt to soften her edges. Her soul is in those edges.

This is one of the last Gandolfini performances, and it’s the ultimate proof that he could change his look and sound and rhythm without losing the source of his power: the connection to that inner baby ever starved for love and nourishment. He’s heartbreakingly good as a man who has governed every wayward impulse except eating, who expends a visible effort to accept himself after years of living with a wife who couldn’t conceal her disgust. You know he and Eva have a fighting chance when they sit in bed and stare with fascination into each other’s mouths. If ever there’s a time for disgust …

A couple of subplots in Enough Said suggest Holofcener’s impulse to fill out the canvas. A running gag with Sarah’s spiky housekeeper doesn’t jell, but Ben Falcone’s casual expressed desires to leave his wife (Sarah) are a howling success. A subplot in which the best friend (Tavi Gevinson) of Eva’s teenage daughter (Tracey Fairaway) turns to Eva as a surrogate mom — and Eva, near-prostrate at the thought of her own daughter leaving for college, reaches back — could have sustained its own movie. Eve Hewson is funny (and a ringer for a young Emily Blunt) as Albert’s defensively judgmental daughter. Holofcener nails most modern parents’ terror of loss — especially when those parents are single. A late goodbye scene (airport, security checkpoint, escalator) nearly finished me.

Keener’s character is very strange, indeed. She dresses like an earth mother, but she’s nasty and dismissive and, when approached by fans of her poetry, pointedly indifferent. I’m not sure I understood the character, who’d have been helped by a final scene with Eva. But I love that Holofcener and Keener decided to shake things up. They’re the ScorseseDeNiro of female-centric comedy.

Movie Review: Enough Said