When beloved television actor James Gandolfini suddenly passed away this past summer, a wave of media attention and public adoration sprung up in his wake. After years of having played the lead role in the popular and critically acclaimed television drama The Sopranos, Gandolfini had earned a cherished place in the hearts of many TV viewers, and his passing stirred many of those hearts in remembrance of what had been all-too-short a life.
His role in Enough Said – a new romantic comedy, starring Gandolfini alongside lead actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus – was one of his last, and as result, it has led many reviewers to champion the film as a touching, worthy comedy for grown-ups – which it is, if somewhat less exceptional than the practically universal praise may have led some to believe.
The story is that of a middle-aged masseuse named Eva (Louis-Dreyfus), who meets and soon begins to date a middle-aged television historian named Albert (Gandolfini). Theirs buds into a happy and rewarding relationship, as they find comfort and unity in spite of whatever limitations they might expect their ages to impose on them, and for a while they become very much in love.
However, Eva eventually discovers that one of her clients (played by Catherine Keener) is in fact Albert’s ex-wife – a revelation that inspires Eva not to come clean, but to delve deeper into her friendship with her client. As they spend more time together – and as Eva learns more from the ex-wife about how her marriage with Albert came to an end – Eva begins to unconsciously act towards a similar conclusion in her relationship with Albert, letting another person’s words and insinuations corrupt her own moment of happiness. Will she let herself be carried too far?
Although much of the attention this movie has received has been based upon the presence of Gandolfini (who is extremely likeable as Albert), this is a movie that really belongs to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. In it, she exhibits all of the charming neuroticism that audiences have come to love her for, depicting Eva for the uncertain, co-dependent, lovely mess that she is. Together, the two manage to strike a chord in a way that feels utterly authentic – so that when things begin to go awry, one feels the emotional strain and wishes it would stop.
This factor of sheer likeability is what gives the movie its one true strength; to think beyond it would expose the movie for the technically shabby effort that it is. The script feels quickly composed, like a television script. (I wonder if, given the principle professional history behind each of the leads, this was not a film written by an individual trained more for the segmented style of TV writing.)
The dialogue is not up to par; there are stronger moments, when you can almost sense how satisfied the writer was with her work – but structurally the piece suffers from any definite consistency, and instead feels like more of a patchwork. This could be largely because of the editing, however, which is surprisingly choppy with noticeable errors in continuity. The direction, too, is rather inferior; there seems to be no attentive eye guiding the piece forward, and so it becomes hard to see the film without sensing a sort of unassertiveness, and lack of integrity and care behind the camera, even while the individuals in front of it are a delight to behold.
Also, I feel the need to comment on the nature of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ role; although she is very charming, the character possesses a good helping of personal faults, which I think adds a level of complexity to the dynamics of this central love story. The character of Eva feels very much in line with the role Louis-Dreyfus played in the recent sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine, a show that, in its prime, served as a hilarious examination of the contemporary middle-aged, divorced, and emotionally confused upper-middle-class American woman, complete with clumsy liaisons in the arms of single dads, clingy parenting strategies, and nightly glasses of wine.
If Christine could enter the world of movies without the same support system she had on her television series, then she may very well have resembled Eva – a woman who is much more on her own and susceptible to personal failings, as she has no clear voice to interfere with her poor decision making. As is evidenced by the plot description, Eva is eventually overpowered by her neediness; not completely, but enough so that she has difficulty maintaining the success of her newfound relationship. The spiral downhill is sad to behold with this character – a woman who, I felt, did not quite deserve to reconnect with her love interest at the end.
I may be a little tough in saying this, but I think it is important to ask just how much a woman such as Eva deserves to have in the way of devotion and companionship. Is it that, at the end, she actually learns to be less dependent on others, or is that she is simply forgiven and is handed back a stable relationship, even though she has not herself learned to be any more self-reliant? Either way, I suppose it doesn’t make much of a difference – but as the closing credits rolled, I felt that Eva was simply relieved to have her lover back, and I would not put it past her to make such a clumsy mistake again.
All in all, Enough Said is an endearing, haplessly-constructed romantic comedy – a hastily scrapped together valentine that speaks for the forgetfulness of self-consumed, needy lovers as much as it speaks for the awkward urgency of love. It cautions us not to question something good when it comes along; it is not uncertainty that destroys us as much as the fear that we allow to dominate and paralyze ourselves in the face of uncertainty. And finally, as is evidenced by our loss of that wonderful Albert: if you know that good things cannot last, then why speed up the day when it all comes to an end?