Review of Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said
Enough Said (2013). USA, 93 minutes. Directed by Nicole Holofcener. Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Tracey Fairaway, Eve Hewson, and Toni Colette.
Whenever a Nicole Holofcener film saunters into town, I always follow it into the movie theater, sit down, and enjoy visiting her world. Like fellow auteur Woody Allen, Holofcener has a world, not a plurality of them. Whether she’s filming in New York or California, Holofcener’s oeuvre—Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money, and Please Give—takes us into her world of middle class people trying to unravel their first-world problems in exquisitely decorated homes. While this could be a banal exercise in pitying those who are comparatively well off, Holofcener finds nuance, humor, and heartbreak in the lives of her privileged characters, building complex stories around them. Enough Said is no exception. The film also resembles the rest of her work in that I greatly enjoyed it but did not fall in love with it. Much like her characters, I found myself well provided for, yet a little unsatisfied.
Although her previous work has featured its share of romantic adventures and misadventures, this is her first film that stands squarely within the romantic comedy genre. Almost squarely, at any rate. The clever setup has Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) falling in love with Albert (James Gandolfini) while simultaneously developing a friendship with his ex-wife, Marianne (Catherine Keener). Holofcener uses this situation to explore the ways people fall in and out of love and whether it is indeed true that one person’s leftovers can become someone else’s treasure.
Holofcener deviates somewhat from romantic comedy territory by providing both Eva and Albert with daughters—their only children—who are about to go away to college. The daughters allow Holofcener to examine the closeness and complications that emerge when parents place the weight of their emotional sanity on their children’s young shoulders. However, bound by the ever-ticking clock of a feature film, Holofcener sets this storyline on the backburner. While the role of the daughters doesn’t feel tacked on, it certainly feels underdeveloped. With Albert’s daughter Tess (Eve Hewson) seeming more like a plot device than an integral part of the film.
While Tess seems underwritten for the sake of pacing—I’d love to see how much of Tess’s story ended up on the cutting room floor—my main issue with the film lies with her mother, Marianne. Catherine Keener, who has shone in every other Holofcener feature, is as close as the director has to a muse. The sole constant inhabitant of Holofcener’s world, Keener has been the ideal conduit of perpetual dissatisfaction and misguided attempts at kindness. Yet Marianne has none of the riveting ambiguities Holofcener’s characters are known for. Instead she falls into the trope of the good man’s evil ex. Just as action heroes are not allowed to kill the villains—villains must slip to their deaths or die as a result of their own plans backfiring—romantic comedy leads are not allowed to break up with nice women. In order to show that the hero is dependable and to make him look like a really good man, Hollywood often makes ex-girlfriends and wives so vile and insensitive that no sane person would ever stay with them. Never mind if the audience wonders why such a good man would have ever been with such a terrible woman in the first place, a reasonable story is less important than keeping the romantic hero as pure and trustworthy as possible.
Keener’s Marianne is one such evil ex. Keener tries to find some depth in Marianne but she comes out empty-handed. Unlike most evil exes who burst shortly onto the screen to remind us of the hero’s goodness, Marianne plays an integral role in the story as Eva’s new friend and unwitting obstacle to our lovers. Not only does the added screen time make us wonder why this character is so unidimensional knowing Holofcener’s gift for nuance, we also wonder why Eva would choose to be Marianne’s friend, especially when the friendship is so costly to her in terms of her relationship with Albert.
Enough with my dissatisfactions. Let us turn to the beauty and magic that Holofcener crafts in Enough Said. Whenever Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini walk into her always sunny, slightly bohemian yet lush version of California, all else is forgotten. Chemistry, that ever-elusive quality between actors, becomes palpable between Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini. The wit and delightful awkwardness of Holofcener’s dialogue rolls out of their tongues with mesmerizing naturalness and we root for their love to succeed so we can watch them share the screen in another scene.
Gandolfini, in his second to last film role, brings dignity and quiet sweetness to the divorced slob who cannot be bothered to have his missing molar fixed but is passionate about his job at a television museum. Louis-Dreyfus comes to us bearing those ever welcome rarities on the silver screen: little makeup and frizzy hair on a female protagonist. She lends her confused masseuse a powerful earnestness and warmth that keeps us rooting for her even in the midst of her biggest missteps. Romantic comedies, in the end, are about the love story, and this one is an acting tour de force supported by exquisite dialogue and inspired directing. Will I go watch Holofcener’s next movie? Absolutely. I will take every chance I get to hang out in this auteur’s world, flawed as it may be.
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