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Enough Said: When Julia Met James

by admin September 18, 2013 6:00 am
Enough Said: When Julia Met James

The term "B-movie" is generally associated with genre fare that involves vampires, serial killers or veteran cops (and sometimes all three!), but it's also an apt descriptor for the five features helmed by writer/director Nicole Holofcener, who has been seriocomically chronicling the professional and personal travails of characters who are well-off, white and predominantly women since 1996's Walking and Talking. All of her movies are stridently small-scale, tackling weighty subjects in a minor key, with plenty of humor on hand to keep the emotions from getting too intense. This makes each of them pleasant to watch, but too unassuming to really be all that memorable. (Funnily enough, some of the TV episodes she's directed -- most notably her two installments of HBO's Enlightened and the "Eagleton" half-hour from Season 3 of Parks and Recreation -- are more resonant than any of her films, including her best to date, 2010's Please Give.) Holofcener's latest, Enough Said, again fits squarely into B-movie tradition: it's engaging, unfussy and ultimately pretty slight.

That said, there are two elements to Enough Said that imbue it with a smidge more heft than is typical for its creator. The first is the presence of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, getting her first honest-to-god cinematic star vehicle some four decades into her career. Given all her small-screen success, it's a little shocking that it took this long for a filmmaker to cast her in a leading role, especially given how effectively she ends up transitioning between the two mediums. Dreyfus plays Eva, a Los Angeles-based masseuse and single mother of a college-bound daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), whose impending departure is gifting her mother with a serious case of empty nest syndrome. As written, Eva's a typical Holofcener heroine in that she's an essentially well-meaning person, but also deeply neurotic and emotionally constipated -- she's dissatisfied with her life, but can't always vocalize how or why, preferring instead to express herself through bouts of odd behavior. Dreyfus plays all that to the hilt, while also avoiding the temptation to present Eva as a vaguely pathetic or pitiable person, a trap other Holofcener leads have fall into in the past. Her razor-sharp wit and impeccable timing complements one of Holofcener's chief skills as a writer, an ability to write seemingly innocuous dialogue that's actually fraught with meaning when the performers intoning it successfully "read" between the lines. What Dreyfus understands -- and what her well-judged performance makes clear -- is that the key to understanding Eva is recognizing that what she's saying is rarely what she's saying.

The second and even more resonant element of Enough Said is that it contains one of the final performances from the dearly departed James Gandolfini in his first stint as a romantic lead. It's impossible to have that knowledge not color the film to some degree; the first time you see him, you experience a wave of sadness realizing he's no longer with us and, by the end of the film, that wave of sadness comes rolling back simply because he's so damn good in a role that's a fairly substantial departure from his usual persona, hinting at a dramatic (and comic) range that had yet to be fully tapped. As Albert, the gentle giant that Eva starts dating after a meet-cute at a fancypants garden party, Gandolfini employs his imposing physicality and presence in a strikingly different way than his wise guy characters. He's forceful, but not overpowering; sweet, but not a cuddly pushover. And his wry, measured underplaying is an ideal match for Dreyfus's more emotive delivery. When it's Eva and Albert sharing the screen, getting to know each other and falling in love, Enough Said is genuinely delightful thanks to an onscreen couple whose chemistry recalls such past greats as Tracy & Hepburn, Allen & Keaton and Crystal & Ryan.

Unfortunately, the plot has to kick in at a certain point and that's where the air starts to leak out of the balloon. Egged on by rom-com genre rules to complicate a beautifully simple situation, Holofcener concocts a scenario where Eva discovers that Albert is actually the ex-husband of one of her clients, Marianne (Holofcener muse Catherine Keener), a New Age-y poet that the masseuse regards with awed fascination. Although she really, really likes Albert, she doesn't want to snip her budding friendship with Marianne in the bud. And, besides that, this lady may have some vital intel on her ex that would save Eva from the heartbreak of a failed relationship. So she continues to see both on the sly, even though discovery would cost her both of their affections. More importantly, though, it costs Eva the viewer's respect as her reasoning for maintaining the charade makes less and less sense (outside of willful self-destruction) as the movie progresses. Holofcener's mistake was to lob a plot wrinkle more suitable for a breakneck screwball comedy into a gentle portrait of middle-aged romance. The mounting frustration the audience experience with the movie's central gimmick ends up taking its toll on any delight they might see in watching Gandolfini and Dreyfus together. (Perhaps realizing that, Holofcener abruptly changes her focus in the final act, pushing Eva's relationship with her daughter to the forefront, though that dynamic proves far less compelling.) Ultimately, Enough Said is a case of two A-plus performances trapped in a movie that's content to exist on a purely B-level.

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