The Woman Who Knew Too Much
‘Enough Said’ Stars James Gandolfini
By A. O. SCOTT
September 17, 2013
NYT Critics' Pick
“I’m tired of being funny,” says Eva, the Los Angeles massage therapist whose midlife travails are the subject of “Enough Said,” a small miracle of a movie written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. It is possible to sympathize with Eva and also to marvel at her curious sense of timing. Happily — or at least not miserably — divorced, with nice friends and a gratifyingly nondysfunctional teenage daughter, Eva, played by the reliably hilarious Julia Louis-Dreyfus, uses her sense of humor as a social tool and an emotional defense. She’s a good sport, a designated joker, which is fine except that it means that she never has to be taken seriously, even by herself.
But as she rolls over in the bed she has just shared, for the first time, with Albert (James Gandolfini) — also the divorced parent of a girl soon to leave for college — Eva senses another possibility. This guy, whom she met at a party and recently started dating, might actually get her, not just her jokes. He agreeably and gallantly says that he’s also tired of being funny. “But you’re not funny,” she says as they snuggle against each other, laughing at her own quick wit and also paying him a sincere, if somewhat backhanded, compliment.
Now is the time to state that “Enough Said” is very funny indeed. Line for line, scene for scene, it is one of the best-written American film comedies in recent memory and an implicit rebuke to the raunchy, sloppy spectacles of immaturity that have dominated the genre in recent years.
This is not to say that Ms. Holofcener, an acute observer of the manners and morals of the self-satisfied metropolitan middle class, West Coast division, is decorous or genteel. She is, rather, almost ruthless in her attention to the petty vanities and hypocrisies of her characters, and the ways their relatively privileged circumstances lead them to weave webs of guilt, complacency and stifled aggression.
And yet it is also clear that Ms. Holofcener likes them, even — or especially — when they are ridiculous, myopic or mean. This has been apparent in all of her features so far, from “Walking and Talking” (1996) through “Lovely and Amazing” (2002), “Friends With Money” (2006) and “Please Give” (2010). Their only real flaw is scarcity. Ideally, Ms. Holofcener would be able to work at a Woody Allen pace, issuing annual bulletins from the lives of people who, after 15 or 20 minutes, already seem like your friends.
In other words, they are exasperating and difficult as well as lovable. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus was memorably described (in her “Seinfeld” persona) as a pretty woman with “a face like a frying pan.” That face has matured into a remarkably expressive instrument. Eva is like no other movie character I have ever seen, and uncannily like a lot of real women I know. Motherhood on the big screen is typically viewed with pity, sentimentality or resentment, and romantic love tends to be treated in a similarly reductive manner, as an impossible dream or a state of earthly bliss. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus and Ms. Holofcener know better, and they approach Eva’s emotional adventures, as mother, lover and friend, as a series of practical and ethical challenges.
Her relationships with Albert and with her daughter, Ellen (the wonderfully sensitive Tracey Fairaway), are each complicated by a third person, whose presence at first seems benign or irrelevant. Eva’s closeness to Ellen’s needy best friend, Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), provokes some jealousy as Ellen prepares to leave home. Meanwhile, she has acquired a new client and friend: Marianne (Catherine Keener), a poet with exquisite taste and an aura of high bohemian glamour who happens to be Albert’s former wife.
The real genius of “Enough Said” is that it takes this entirely plausible anecdotal circumstance and unlocks both its farcical potential and its latent profundity. What happens when the things that you once found charming start driving you crazy? Many love stories address that question, but Ms. Holofcener tilts it a few degrees. Does it matter that the things about Albert that Eva finds charming drive Marianne crazy? Should it?
These turn out to be not so trivial questions, amusing as it is to watch Eva struggle to figure out what to do with the Too Much Information that Marianne has been unwittingly feeding her. To Eva, Albert is a sweet, sexy, affable slob, but his ex remembers him as a bore and a loser, clumsy in bed and incapable of taking care of himself. Partly because she is dazzled by the friendship of someone who writes incomprehensible verse, serves exotic iced tea and hangs out with Joni Mitchell, Eva absorbs Marianne’s perspective and tries, with obnoxious good intentions, to correct Albert’s faults.
The inevitability and the danger of such reform efforts are among the motifs of “Enough Said.” Eva’s married friends, Sarah and Will (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone), exist in a state of easy, affectionate tolerance that is often hard to distinguish from seething contempt. Eva and her ex-husband (Toby Huss) get along as well as they do because they have given up on each other. Albert and Eva’s romance feels exciting and perilous because there is something at stake.
This movie will make you laugh and leave you in tears. Some of the pathos is the accidental byproduct of seeing Mr. Gandolfini, so playful and alive, in one of his final major movie roles and feeling once again the loss of his remarkable gift. There is also the pang of the empty nest, that mixture of grief and pride that is the special anguish of modern parents.
But there is also something deeper. The ache that “Enough Said” leaves behind comes from the blunt force of truth. The final scenes have such impact because Ms. Holofcener has struck a buried nerve, uncovered a zone of anxiety, fear and hope that has rarely been explored with such empathy or precision. Eva, like many of us, lives in a world where the rules and roles are puzzling — where parental authority is negotiable, marriage vows are revocable and social boundaries are never clearly marked.
Even so, the primal values of right and wrong — the requirements of compassion, honesty and honorable action — still apply. It is easy to make mistakes and hard to correct them, easy to be funny and hard to be good.
“Enough Said” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Adult language and behavior.
Opens on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles.
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener; director of photography, Xavier Grobet; edited by Robert Frazen; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production design by Keith Cunningham; costumes by Leah Katznelson; produced by Anthony Bregman and Stefanie Azpiazu; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes.