Quite by accident, ‘Enough Said’ offers a fitting tribute to the late James Gandolfini
By T. T. Stern-Enzi
Writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s latest film, “Enough Said,” arrives burdened with the sad realization that it features one of the final recorded performances of James Gandolfini, but what we would be wise to focus on is the cause for celebration contained in that performance.
“Enough Said” is the story of Eva (Emmy Award-winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a divorced freelance massage therapist who, while stepping out of her quiet comfort zone, meets two people at a party. Albert (Gandolfini), a hulking slob who is not exactly her type, slowly sneaks past her defenses, in part because each of them is struggling over the impending departure of their daughters for college. Marianne (Catherine Keener) is a holistically-driven poet who becomes a new client. She seemingly has it all together and inspires Eva to seek something better for herself. Unfortunately, Albert and Marianne are exes, which forces Eva to question her judgment and her growing fondness for Albert.
From an emotional perspective, Holofcener traverses the same territory as Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right,” – minus the same-sex dynamic that only added a spicy accent to the complex relationship drama – which she’s been doing throughout her career. Holofcener is a New York artist, plainly rooted in the neuroses of human interpersonal interaction and the philosophical questions from the larger society that intrude on the smaller scale. I remember the low-key wanderings of “Walking and Talking” from 1996, with a woman (Keener) stressing over drama with her best friend (Anne Heche) and her cat being diagnosed with cancer. Coping with issues was and remains a fascination for Holofcener’s characters. Self-esteem and body issues take center stage in “Lovely & Amazing,” which has a devastating nude scene with a would-be actress (Emily Mortimer) facing the glare of her lover (Dermot Mulroney).
Grace and acceptance do not come easily with age in Holofcener’s world. Insecurity makes sure of that. Albert and Eva are two peas in a pod when it comes to their relationships with their daughters. The offspring serve as lifelines for these single parents, a last straw-like tether that each fears will break, leaving them alone and without love. Eva’s the focus of our attention; it is her story, but there is something far more compelling in Albert’s experience. We rarely see how fathers cope with their children’s transitions into adulthood, especially a single father.
Holofcener has tapped a seriocomic dramatic vein, similar to Woody Allen, although here it is one that works less because of the inherent humor in the mix, but due to the quiet and unassuming work of her actors, led, in no small part, by Gandolfini. Here, we get a fully realized male character, ripe with vulnerability and more humanity than we’re used to, but Gandolfini makes it seem like a common everyday occurrence. His Albert is a hero, a true Everyman; able to embrace himself, warts and all, with the kind of love he’s looking for in another. Eva becomes an even stronger stand-in for the audience as she interacts with Albert, because she is obviously unprepared for a man like Albert.
Watching “Enough Said” planted a seed of longing in me that might only come to fruition if I could settle in and watch the film once a week for the rest of my life, so that I could savor this little-seen side of this truly great character actor. It would be worth sacrificing all of those Tony Soprano moments to have just this reminder of what might have been. If only filmmakers would be daring enough to embrace this model. Imagine a new breed of not mere superheroes, but super men.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com.