Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the romantic comedy genre or the “rom-com” (as the kids like to call it these days). I usually find that these types of movies shamelessly bubble-over with used-to-death clichés and prototypical situations that NEVER happen to normal people. The plots are usually contrived, the performances are hollow, and by the time the credits are rolling, everything has fit together like a smooth puzzle of a beautiful picture.
In other words – rom-coms are totally and utterly unrealistic.
That’s why “Enough Said” completely blew me away… in a good way.
It’s a rom-com for the middle-aged set. You know the type. In fact, many of you reading this right now ARE that type… or at least your parents are. This film is aimed towards the demographic that: (A) may be going through a midlife crisis OR (B) might be slightly overweight, but is trying like hell to eat right and exercise OR (C) just went through a less-than amicable divorce and are “getting back out there” OR (D) could possibly have a recently-graduated high school student that is shipping off to college soon.
If you fit the description of option A,B,C,D or all of the above, you have something in common with the characters in “Enough Said” and you will relate to and thoroughly enjoy this movie. Actually, I can’t really say that I fit that description (well, except for option “B” and maybe after I finish my cheesesteak I’ll tell you about it), but I was still fascinated and enamored with this film.
I love this film because nothing really happens in it. I know, I know. That sentence looks strange to me and I just wrote it. Nevertheless, the lack of real drama in these characters’ lives is an extremely cathartic and comforting feeling. It’s nice to see a film tackle the subject of everyday relationships without having to resort to wacky coincidences, serendipitous moments or overly tragic circumstances. Well, that is, unless you count the act of falling in love as a tragedy, but then… you wouldn’t be wasting your time with a rom-com, now would you.
The two main characters here are Eva (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and
Albert (played by the late James Gandolfini, in what is being advertised as his “last role”). They represent your average, giving-it-all-they’ve-got divorcees and both are struggling to keep it together with their daughters on the way to faraway schools and an inevitable bout of Empty Nest Syndrome in the works.
Although they’re both the product of separate failed marriages, they are not bad people, by any stretch of the word. As we’re shown here, sometimes people just lose touch with one another. Whether it’s for significant reasons – like arguing about the fundamentals of raising children or superficial ones – like Albert’s ex-wife literally “gagging” over his chips and guacamole eating habits, in the end, it all goes under the heading of “irreconcilable differences.”
So, Eva – a stuck-in-a-rut massage therapist who feels more and more invisible and unappreciated by her daughter and her clientele with each passing day – and Albert – a pop-culture enthusiast and TV historian, who’s content with the fact he’s an overweight slob (maybe too content) – find themselves at the same dull party one night, where they both pretend to not be interested in any new romantic endeavors; especially with each other.
“So, Eva tells me there’s nobody she’s attracted to at this party,” her best friend’s husband Will (played by a super-smug and very funny Ben Falcone) tells Albert, while in the midst of introducing him to an embarrassed Eva. “Well, I’m not attracted to anyone here either,” Albert playfully volleys back to Eva. Right off the bat, the flirtation begins and you can sense that the seeds are planted, albeit at first unknowingly.
At this same party, Eva picks up a new client for her massage business – the
outspoken Marianne (played by Catherine Keener). During the next few weeks, Eva forms a friendship with Marianne, which fills a whole in her heart that has recently been vacated by her daughter and her busy social schedule. Even though Eva has an old and dear friend in Sarah (played by Toni Collette speaking in her original Aussie accent), the two of them are at very different points in their lives. Eva, as you already know, is divorced and single with a teenage daughter, while Sarah is married with a much younger child and has time-consuming problems of her own, which mostly consist of her inept maid Cathy (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes) putting hairbrushes in kitchen drawers during spurts of passive-aggressive behavior. Eva’s relationship with the poetry-writing Marianne stimulates a previously-neglected space in her heart – an important space. Pretty soon, the two women elevate their association above the massage table and before you know it, they’re trading disastrous stories involving ex-husbands. Eva also learns that Marianne has a child that is going off to college on the other side of the country as well, which officially seals the bond between the two.
Simultaneously, Eva is starting up her courtship with Albert. Although, at first, Eva’s not sure if this man with the bushy beard and the protrusive belly is her type, but she agrees to give it a shot anyway. What happens next are some of the sweetest, most realistic scenes portraying the dating scene I’ve ever witnessed in a film. Well, maybe that’s because I admittedly don’t see a lot of romantic movies, but maybe if all of them were THIS enjoyable to watch I might tolerate more of them. Who knows? Maybe I’d learn to like the romantic comedy genre.
A great deal of the enjoyment I got from “Enough Said,” stemmed from the performances. Not just from Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini, both of whom were
perfectly cast in their characters and exuded effortless chemistry during every awkward, uncomfortable moment. In short, both of them played easy characters to root for. So, when the wheels eventually fall off and the “you-know-what” hits the fan (and doesn’t it always), you really feel for these guys. You WANT these crazy kids to make it. It’s just that life inevitably rears its ugly head and ultimately seems to get in the way of happiness. Doesn’t it? But, that’s what makes “Enough Said” such a great film.
Writer and director Nicole Holofcener (who also wrote and directed 1996’s little-known charmer “Walking and Talking,” which is ANOTHER rom-com I actually like) never feels the need to include any tomfoolery or shenanigans into the proceedings to give the characters something to react to. All she does is let life happen to them, which is how all great writers should approach their stories. Reality has a funny way of being funny and she seems to grasp this concept in the same way that Larry David did with “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” David created such strong personalities that he could throw a whole lot of “nothing” at them and they’d still turn it into something entertaining. Holofcener throws the same “nothing” at her characters, which why it was a smart choice to cast Louis-Dreyfus as Eva. Just like she did with Elaine Benes in David’s “Seinfeld,” she is able to bring Eva to life with just a smile or an eyebrow raise or even a fleeting chuckle. The variations in her expressive physical demeanor during each scene perfectly compliment the subtle touches that Gandolfini brings to Albert.
Gandolfini’s performance made me remember what a powerful actor he really was. Literally, having just finished re-watching the entire series of “The Sopranos” recently, my jaw was agape over how different his portrayal of Tony was to his role as Albert. If Tony was the searing alpha male who would fly off the handle in response to a single insulting word, Albert was the opposite. Gandolfini played him like a giant teddy bear that was soft and cuddly and even spouted out witty repartee when his string was pulled. However, where Tony would go from zero-to-pissy in two-seconds flat, Albert would take it and take it and take it some more. He knew he was overweight, he knew that Eva knew he was overweight, he just wanted Eva to like him for who he was. He wanted to want to change, not be forced into it and the relationship they had flourished because she understood this. Albert’s ex-wife didn’t, which is why they divorced, but Eva was different. Until, something changed… ever so slightly.
Since I’m working on keeping this a “spoiler-free zone,” I will NOT be getting into any of those changes or WHY they changed or anything like that. I will say that the changes (whatever they are) happen organically, which I know is an overused buzzword, but it fits here regardless. While, the primary storyline, between Eva and Albert, is going on, there are some secondary conflicts that shine through as well.
This is particularly the case with Eva’s relationship with her soon-departing-for-school daughter Ellen (played by the cute-as-a-button Tracey Fairaway), as well as Albert’s with his daughter Tess (played by the equally pretty Eve Hewson). Both daughters are important to the story in their own way, but it’s Ellen’s neglected, lost puppy dog-of-a-friend Chloe (played by newcomer Tavi
Gevenson, who shines in her first feature film role) that provides the most emotional value in the storyline. With Ellen purposefully trying to “stay away” from her mother, as she tries to get ready for her upcoming college-level independence, Chloe keeps showing up to the house to wait for Ellen, who seems to be avoiding her too. The mother-daughter relationship that forms between the spurned Eva and the forgotten Chloe (her relationship with her own mother is far from perfect, as she is hitting her mid-life crisis in stride) is both beautiful and strangely illicit. It’s as if you’re waiting for the two of them to get caught, even though they aren’t doing anything wrong in the first place. Of course, we all want what we can’t get, so you know that Ellen will come crawling back to Eva after she realizes leaving the nest isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (and the jealously of her mother’s relationship with “another daughter” kicks in), However, it’s what happens between Eva, Chloe and Chloe’s mother that is both shocking and uncalled for. It’s not a particularly important moment for Eva per se, but you can almost sense the heartache permeating from the screen on Chloe’s behalf.
This speaks volumes in terms of Holofcener’s ability to create real moments for real characters without having to resort to desperate measures, such as violence, slapstick or crushing tragedy. Not that there’s anything wrong with films that include these elements, but there’s a time and a place for everything and this film doesn’t need any of those things. Holfcener realizes that most of us have enough on our plates without having to account for zany adventures OR feral explosions of primal rage (a la Tony Soprano) and their consequences OR the sudden accidental death of a loved one and the obligatory funeral scene afterwards. I mean, not everybody attends multiple funerals for important people in their lives within a short period of time. So why does it happen so often in the movies? I’ll never know.
It’s the simple story of a woman and her massage table, climbing dozens of steps
day after day (you’ll get the joke when you see it), who meets a nice man, that doesn’t have a chiseled set of abs or a Fortune 500 job, and after a few brunches and dinners attempt to take that pivotal next step. Oh sure, there’re ex-wives/husbands and bratty kids and secrets that you hope aren’t unearthed, but really it’s an average tale about average people living average lives. Instead of racing Formula 1 cars or or inventing machines that make food fall out of the sky, this film’s biggest achievement occurs as Eva and her ex-husband Peter (played by instantly recognizable character actor and Frank Sinatra impersonator Toby Huss) accompany their daughter to the airport to see her board a plane on the first leg of her collegiate journey. Although this couple is divorced, they walk through the terminal hand-in-hand after the plane leaves and with emotion quivering in her voice, Eva turns to Peter, “I can’t believe we made that.”
At that point, it’s blatantly obvious that a lot more than “nothing” had been happening during this soothing example of subtle, cinematic storytelling and when the words “For Jim” popped up in the credits shortly after the film’s conclusion, I knew this was a worthy swansong for someone as talented as James Gandolfini.