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Entries in Enough Said [2013] (1)


Enough Said (2013)

Schmutz in a Name

Today, we bear witness to one of film history's greatest crimes: James Gandolfini's second-to-last feature, a genre-defying romantic comedy that might just be a game changer, has been saddled with a vague title that dares moviegoers not to skip it. Enough Said doesn't belong in the sad pantheon of random-phrase-name romantic comedies like No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits, and That's What She Said. But there you have it: thousand-dollar caviar nestled among off-brand instant oatmeal.

I didn't have much hope for the movie after watching its trailer. Having now seen all of writer/director Nicole Holofcener's wonderful film, I don't envy the people who had to devise a way to promote it. The previews are sufficiently jokey and tender where they need to be, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus comes off as the kind of clumsy, lovelorn single gal that is as crucial to the genre as creative kills are to stalk-and-slash pictures. But what the commercials don't show--indeed, what they can't show--are the layers of raw, emotional comedy that burst out of one of the most honest screenplays in recent memory.

Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a divorced massage therapist on the verge of becoming an empty-nester as daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) prepares to leave for college. At a party, she's introduced to Albert (Gandolfini), a warm but awkward bear of a man who seems genuinely relieved to meet a cool person in a sea of stuffed shirts. At this same party, Eva meets a poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener), who soon becomes not only a client, but something resembling a best friend.

If you've seen the ads for Enough Said, you know that Albert is Marianne's ex-husband, and that Eva finds herself living a double life as lover to one and confidante of the other. In lesser hands, this cute conceit would be the basis for ninety minutes of Three's Company-style misunderstandings, narrow escapes, and maybe even a wacky disguise or two. But Holofcener, unlike most rom-com writers today, exercises great restraint in examining how real people might handle this absurd situation. At first, Eva is freaked out by all the insight Marianne offers into Albert's unsettling personal habits. Then she's intrigued. Eventually, she unwittingly sides with the ex, and begins to treat her boyfriend as a project instead of a partner.

Her best friend, Sarah (Toni Collette), is no help, as she's embroiled in a tricky relationship of her own: she wrestles with being a bored stay-at-home mom to two grade-schoolers, and projects her dissatisfaction onto husband Will (Ben Falcone), whom she decides is too agreeably boring to stay with (there's also an iffy sub-plot involving a clumsy maid that feels like a studio note, but I'll let it go).

The film's third major thread involves Eva and Albert's coping with kids going off to school. At a time when they should be cherishing every moment together, Eva and Ellen grow further apart. Ellen's best friend, Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), is all but ignored by her family, and her status as Eva's unofficial surrogate daughter practically drives Ellen out of the house. Across town, Albert must contend with his own daughter, a brilliant but icy socialite named Tess (Eve Hewson).

Enough Said is sneaky in the best possible way. In just under an hour-and-a-half, we're presented with three weighty stories that inform and enhance each other perfectly--while also delivering big, smart laughs. Holofcener knows that because people are inherently funny, one doesn't need to go to absurd lengths to squeeze comedic blood out of a conversation; one only has to observe how silly, elating, and terrifying relationships can be. And though the movie brims with issues of dating, sex, parenting, and the lost art of television appreciation (Albert is a TV archivist), the movie never feels contrived and never loses its focus on these great characters.

Of course, solid writing is only half the equation. Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus may be the the most delightful on-screen couple you'll see this year, blending wit, vulnerability, and wounded egos in ways that will sting anyone who's ever taken a chance on love. The actors reinvent themselves so fully that you may just forget that they starred in two of modern television's most influential shows.

It's a shame that we won't get to see Gandolfini further explore the range he demonstrates here,* trading his signature "tough guy" machismo for a mildly sloppy but kind-hearted TV nerd. For her part, Louis-Dreyfus immolates the neurotic abrasiveness of her Seinfeld character and creates a three-dimensional person whom we really want to see land a great guy (even if poor judgment leads to some colossal blunders).

Most romantic comedies are garbage. And not just the Katherine Heigl-flavored, high-fructose fantasies: even Judd Apatow's over-long, over-indulgent epics are just thinly disguised empty calories featuring careerist damsels and nitwit man-children. I'm not saying these people don't exist, but they are certainly over-represented in pop culture. It's refreshing to see a filmmaker make a movie for and about smart people--people who don't need dope or a mid-life crisis to realize the power and beauty of their own emotions.

So, yeah, ignore the crappy title and see this thing right away. 

*The actor passed away this summer.