Movie Review

Enough Said: When Women Look at Men

Even if the men in her films do exist as substantive characters, it is the way women see them that creates the movie's emotional and conceptual depth.

Enough Said Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener; with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Tracey Fairaway, Eve Hewson, Tavi Gevinson

An intelligent romantic comedy is rare enough these days, and a romantic comedy whose heroes are unafraid to describe themselves as middle-aged is even rarer. American writer and director Nicole Holofcener makes small, smart comedies, usually about women. Despite the modesty of her work, she is one of the few female filmmakers who have made a significant contribution to shaping the cinematic gaze directed at women. This was evident in her previous movies ‏(“Lovely & Amazing,” “Friends with Money”‏), and it is true as well of her new picture, “Enough Said.”

There are men in Holofcener’s movies, and they too are well crafted. In general, she is a filmmaker and writer with the ability to present layered characters, often with a single quick brushstroke. But even if the men in her films do exist as substantive characters, it is the way women see them that creates the movies’ emotional and conceptual depth. This is especially obvious in the new film, which follows the relationship that develops between Eva ‏(Julia Louis-Dreyfus‏), a masseuse and divorced mother whose daughter is about to leave for college, and Albert ‏(James Gandolfini‏), also divorced and also facing the imminent departure of his daughter for design school in New York.

Eva is not immediately attracted to Albert, whose looks and lifestyle do not exactly fit her romantic ambitions. The two, however, strike up a near-instant intimacy, more verbal than sexual, which Holofcener captures with impressive precision. It’s been a long time since we last saw a romantic comedy in which, as in the great classic works of the genre, a man and a woman bond initially through verbal communication and humor. The dialogue in “Enough Said” is better than in most movies we’ve seen in a long while. One has to respect a movie that, in contrast to the verbal poverty of most contemporary American filmmaking, is not afraid to let its characters talk to each other, and even to do so with intelligence and wit.

The turning point in the plot comes with the interference of another female character, Marianne ‏(Catherine Keener‏), a pretentious poet who even claims to be good friends with Joni Mitchell. Marianne, who is Eva’s client, becomes friends with her and gradually changes the way she sees Albert and his flaws. Through Marianne and her effect on Eva, “Enough Said” becomes a smart, original exploration of romantic scruples and of the question of how to know whether the man you like is really the man you like. Eva starts to see Albert through Marianne’s eyes, and her grappling with this process creates the central conflict that every romantic comedy must include on the way to learning independence, free thought and equality.

The fine cast of “Enough Said” includes Toni Collette as Eva’s good friend, whose relationship with her husband perpetually borders on hostility, Tracey Fairaway as Eva’s affectionate daughter, Eve Hewson as Albert’s snotty daughter, and Tavi Gevinson as a friend of Eva’s daughter that, due to her own family problems, wants Eva to be her mother, too. But the movie belongs first and foremost to Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini. Louis-Dreyfus has the same neurotic edge as in her television performances, and at times her mannerisms become too much, but she makes Eve that rare thing on today’s movie screen − an intelligent woman who does not hide her age, does not try to seem artificially glamorous, and has a winningly ordinary presence.

James Gandolfini’s appearance is heartbreaking. “Enough Said” was the penultimate movie of this wonderful actor, who died in June at the age of 51. Gandolfini had the unique ability to play characters who were at once tough and vulnerable, and he has never been as human and warm as he is in this movie. In contrast to Eva, his Albert is full of human steadiness, and with one small smile he reveals the entire soul contained in his large body. He alone is very good reason to see this small, wise picture.