Perhaps the biggest talking point of writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said is that it marks the penultimate release of James Gandolfini’s career, cut short by his untimely death in June of this year. Gandolfini has always shown an underlying sweetness in even the most outwardly violent of his turns – including his signature role, Tony Soprano – and it’s a delight to see him playing a regular guy here. Sweet, funny and sharing a loveable chemistry with co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it’s a fond farewell to a gifted actor.
Dreyfus stars as Eva, a divorced Los Angeles masseuse who’s about to be left alone when daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) heads off to college. Her married pals (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone) try to ease her back into the dating scene by taking her along to a party. Against her better judgement, Eva goes to the party, where she meets similarly divorced, middle-aged and lonely Albert (Gandolfini). Despite her initial lack of interest, his sense of humour wins her over and they agree to go on a date.
Also at the party, Eva meets Marianne (Catherine Keener), a poet who quickly becomes a new client and friend. Eva is in awe of Marianne’s high-brow lifestyle and the pair bond over afternoon cocktails in Marianne’s exquisite house, divulging all the messy details about their exes.
After their first date goes well, Eva and Albert embark on a sweet relationship, falling for each other in a practical, middle-aged kind of way.
The film’s big, Woody Allen-esque conceit is that, as the trailers give away, Albert is the ex-husband Marianne can’t stop tearing down at every opportunity. Eva is smitten with Albert but Marianne’s complaints sow the seeds of doubt in her mind and she’s torn between the man she’s falling for and the woman she idolises.
It’s a plot device that sticks out, forcing farcical machinations on an otherwise gentle, grounded comedy. The relationships all feel real and the actors all bring a lived-in quality to their characters, so the sitcom twist that drives the plot and force Eva’s character into some bizarre choices isn’t necessary.
Thankfully there’s so much great stuff going on elsewhere that it’s easy to ignore any iffy contrivances at the film’s centre. Eva’s relationship with Ellen in particular provides some of the film’s most moving material, as Eva begins to grow close to Ellen’s best friend Chloe (newcomer Tavi Gevinson), seemingly lining up a surrogate for when her daughter leaves home.
The chief appeal of the film however is the two leads. Dreyfus makes full use of her trademark goofy likeability while also portraying a convincing mother figure. She and Gandolfini make a lovely couple and there’s genuine joy to be had in watching the early days of their courtship and real heartbreak when things inevitably take a turn for the worse. While watching him, it’s hard to shake the fact that Gandolfini is no longer with us and that lends a bittersweet feel to his warm, natural performance.
Despite a clunky central conceit, Holofcener shows her keen eye for adult relationships, making Enough Said a warm, witty and observant romantic comedy for grown-ups. The focus on middle-aged characters that look and act their age is a refreshing change, especially when they’re portrayed this well. Gandolfini will be sorely missed.