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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Enough Said

I don't know why the hell this took so long to come out but it's well worth the wait.

Also reviewed at Channel 24

What it's about

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorcee facing the reality of a very empty nest as her only daughter prepares to go off to college when she meets Albert (James Gandolfini), who is going through much the same thing. It's not long before their commonality turns into a real romance, but at the same time Eva, a masseuse by profession, befriends one of her clients, poetess Marianne (Catherine Keener) whose surprising link to Albert threatens to kill her newly blossoming romance in mid-bloom.

What we thought

Enough Said may have a very generic, very forgettable title, but, as it turns out, the film itself is easily one of the year's greatest cinematic pleasures. It may not seem like much at first glance, but it is precisely the film's willingness to play with its own genericness and the audience's own expectations that makes it the surprise hit that it is. Well, that and the fact that this is one romantic comedy that is both genuinely funny and achingly romantic.

The first master stroke of the film is that it has, at its centre, a storytelling device that could easily have backfired and turned the film into an oddly Seinfeld-esque bit of comic madness, at best, and just another dopey, unbelievable rom-com at worst, but is instead the emotional focal point of the whole story. What starts off as a very believable, very warm-hearted story about two people falling in love becomes something even more intriguing as the film starts to question how we allow outside perceptions to taint our relationships and our own happiness – and it does all this without ever losing sight of the copious amounts of heart and humour that made it work in the first place.

The second and perhaps even greater master stroke of the film is the way it makes use of its two lead actors. It is perhaps true that we critics may at times spend just a bit too much time talking about the quality of the performances in a film when there is usually so much going on that makes or breaks a film that shining the spotlight so heavily on the actors may well do a disservice to the other departments charged with bringing a film to life – especially our tendency to overlook the importance of the role itself. It takes a film like Enough Said then, to remind us just how crucial a performance or performances can be in bringing an entire film together.

Enough Said has a number of great supporting turns, but this is a film that belongs entirely to its two stars. Though credit has to be given to the film's writer/ director/ casting agent as well, as they have taken two actors who are largely known for playing particular kinds of characters and bouncing our expectations back at us.

We expect to see, for example, the late, great James Gandolfini (here in his second to last role) as either Tony Soprano or as the kind of character that got him cast as that iconic TV icon in the first place. In Enough Said, however, he plays a genuinely sweet, kind hearted, if slightly schlubby guy whose very formidable physical size - and our own expectations of the actor playing him - helps to play into the idea that he may not be what he seems to be, even though, really, he probably is. It's a genius bit of casting and Gandolfini gives us one of his all-time best performances that is every bit as subtle and nuanced as Tony Soprano, with a character that is that mob boss' exact opposite.

As for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, she may have had by far the most versatile and most active post-Seinfeld career of the show's four leads, but it's hard to ever really shake Elaine Benes for your mind when watching her. Besides, though her roles in The New Adventures of Old Christine and Veep may be different from her best known character and she has maintained a very visible TV presence for years now, she has never been able to shake off Elaine enough to ever really make the transition to leading lady on film. Until now, that is.

Trading the feisty, headstrong personality on which she made her name for a role that is, in many ways, similar to the kind of sympathetic, likeable but crucially flawed female lead that Kristen Wiig and Rashida Jones used so effectively in Bridesmaids and Celeste and Jess Forever, respectively, Louis-Dreyfus is a constant surprise in Enough Said. She maintains her unquestionable comic timing, but she funnels it here through her most dramatically engaging creation yet.

Brilliant individually as both of these veterans actors may be, what really amazes is the way they play off one another, balancing real chemistry with enough vulnerability and brittleness to make their interactions brilliantly, if often painfully, real. And make no mistake, for all of the film's charm and its many, many jokes, it's also one of the most painful I've seen in a while.

Writer/ director Nicole Holofcener has directed some pretty great TV shows (Parks and Recreation, Gilmore Girls (yup) and Six Feet Under) and one, um, popular show (Sex and the City), as well as been involved in some rather mixed indie dramas (Please Give, Friends With Money) but she has really taken a quantum leap forward here with a film that is, in equal parts, funny, painful, moving, intelligent and subtle. It's so good, in fact, that I'm almost willing to forgive her admittedly brief association with the noxious Sex and the City. Almost.

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