The feeling of time slipping away hangs over the duration of Enough Said for a number of reasons, including those pertaining to the film itself, and those external to the world of Nicole Holofcener’s latest, and perhaps best, work. The most apparent of these going into the movie is the sad passing of the great James Gandolfini, a figure who looms as large on the screen as he does in television history for his iconic portrayal of Tony Soprano. His posthumous presence in the film unavoidably puts the thought of time passing and his passing away in the back of the minds of probably most people seeing this film (it was the topic of the first question posed to Holofcener at the screening I went to). This informs our experience of the movie, and I think it makes it work even better on emotional and thematic levels.
The first observation that needs to be made about Enough Said is that it is incredibly funny. Having the brilliant Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the lead all but guarantees that you are going to get plenty of laughs. Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a middle-aged, divorced mom and masseuse, whose daughter is leaving for college very soon. Faced with this transition, the rite of passage for parents and children alike when it comes time to leave the nest, she develops a relationship with Albert, a television archivist in the same situation as Eva—divorced, middle-aged, with a teenage daughter about to leave home for school. At the same time as she’s becoming close with Albert, Eva makes a new client and friend in Marianne, played by Holofcener muse Catherine Keener, who Eva soon learns, to her shock, is Albert’s ex-wife.
This odd triangular plot adds a certain texture and awkwardness to the story, as well as providing plenty of opportunities for laughs and a chance for Eva to learn all about Albert’s worst qualities—which feels real and understandable given the experience any middle-aged person has surely had with past relationships and wanting to know what they’re getting into instead of wasting time with a dud of a partner. But the prime pleasure of this movie comes in the moments between Eva and Albert, who share a common sense of humor and sharp awareness of how each is using that humor. That is to say, they’re conscious of the performance they’re both putting on for the other’s benefit, but also appreciating the other’s efforts in keeping their time together funny.
Not to understate the great performances by Toni Collette, who plays Eva’s friend Sarah and speaks in her actual Australian accent for apparently the first time in an American movie, and Keener, who captures the mix of affability and bitterness of her lonely poet character, but it’s our two stars who truly shine in this film. Gandolfini shows precisely why he’ll be so deeply missed by audiences; he is so quietly charming and unassuming in his humor that it’s hard to not find him absolutely adorable, which is important given the visual mismatch between his character and Eva. The disparate appearances of the couple, really just the immense difference in size, only adds to the comedy and unexpected nature of the story.
This could be Louis-Dreyfus’ greatest screen performance yet. We’ve seen how well she can play comedy in her work since the 80s on Saturday Night Live, gaining the most attention on Seinfeld, and most recently the dense humor of Veep. Particularly in the latter case, she has shown hints of tremendous dramatic skill, but Enough Said gives her the opportunity to find new heights, so to speak (she’s a small woman!), in more serious tones and greater emotional depth. The moments with her daughter are sad and sweet at times, and her ability to be simultaneously charming and profoundly vulnerable is pretty extraordinary. The image of her struggling to carry her massage table up that huge flight of narrow stairs sums up the character and performance beautifully: dragging some enormous weight behind her and struggling hard to do so, but all with a smile on her face and using humor to cope.
Every element of the movie seems like it just falls right into place. It’s a trademark of Holofcener’s style, making this difficult process seem effortless. The invisible score by Marcelo Zarvos is used at just the right times. The timing of the conversations feels authentic, and the dialogue completely natural, which makes the story of middle age romance hit home that much harder, an area that surely is more relatable to an older audience yet still contains familiar elements to those of us from a younger demographic. The awkwardness between Eva and Albert as they get to know each other is relatable to probably everybody, but the sense they give off that they have both been there many times is interesting. Natural complications arise, and difficulties and tensions are necessarily dealt with, but amongst the unpredictability of Enough Said, two constants remain: time will always press on, and history has a way of circling around on itself. Both of these are expressed in the closing two shot of our leading couple, Louis-Dreyfus, with us, quietly staring at Gandolfini’s gentle smile for what may be the last time.
The combination of Julia Louis-Dreyfus's comedic strengths with Nicole Holofcener's graceful style and James Gandolfini's quiet charm makes Enough Said a sad, sweet, and beautiful story of love at middle age.