If you are wary of what we might term the “mature romantic comedy” — having been burned by things like the atrocious Something’s Gotta Give — please understand that I am right there with you. The previews for Enough Said didn’t do the movie any favors, and to want to see the film simply because it features James Gandolfini in one of his last roles feels slightly dark and morbid. But maybe you loved Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld, or you can’t get enough of Catherine Keener in roles that don’t insult her intelligence.
Or maybe, like me, you somehow remained ignorant of the fact that Enough Said is a Nicole Holofcener film — a special treat that comes around only every three or four years. Holofcener’s last film, 2010’s Please Give, was one of her best, and that’s saying something about a career that includes Walking and Talking and Friends With Money. Holofcener tells intimate, realistic stories about flawed, privileged people, mostly women, and their complicated relationships; they have a natural feel, unfussy cinematography and, inevitably, a few moments that are sheer, relatable agony to watch. For all her empathy toward her imperfect characters, Holofcener is perfectly willing to let them throw themselves under a bus — or behind a bush, as the case may be.
In Enough Said, Eva (Louis-Dreyfus), a 50-ish masseuse, is unwillingly facing a moment of change: Her daughter, Ellen (a gently prickly Tracey Fairaway), is about to leave for college, and Eva is so unprepared that she’s gradually befriending Ellen’s sweet friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), whose mother is a piece of work (to put it nicely). At a party with her comfortably bickering friends Sarah and Will (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone), Eva meets Marianne (Keener), a poet, and Albert (Gandolfini), a librarian. Eva and Albert claim to be not attracted to one another, which means, of course, they have to go on a date.
Holofcener isn’t afraid of treading romantic comedy ground with Enough Said, which hinges on coincidences and bad decisions — but the way she works with familiar material is what makes this movie such a delight. What happens is ridiculous, but the characters’ reactions are not: They behave like real people. It’s easy to say that characters in a movie feel real but harder to pin down what makes them that way; in Holofcener’s case, it’s a delicate hand with the balance of flaws and strengths. Her characters are never defined by just one trait: a neurotic, a joker, a complainer. They’re each a bundle of habits and failings, talents and defense mechanisms. When Albert tells Eva that his daughter Tess (Eve Hewson), who’s just been a complete snob throughout lunch, has a good heart, it’s tempting not to believe him — but Tess, like everyone else, has moments of sweetness and vulnerability.
Like Ellen, Tess is about to leave for college, and Holofcener weaves that thread of plot neatly into her exploration of middle-aged relationships and second chances. The struggle between the parents’ need for their kids and the kids’ need for freedom, while secondary, is heartbreakingly true. (I’d like to give an award to whoever set-decorated Ellen’s bedroom, full of the cast-offs of childhood on the eve of her departure for college.) The kids aren’t the only ones becoming whoever they’re going to be next. Bittersweet, smart and oddly comforting, Enough Said is further confirmation that Holofcener is one of the most perceptive writer-directors working today. It’s a gem.
ENOUGH SAID: Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. Cinematography, Xavier Pérez Grobet. Editing, Robert Frazen. Music, Marcelo Zarvos. Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Tracey Fairaway, Tavi Gevinson and Eve Hewson. Fox Searchlight, 2013. PG-13. 93 minutes. Four and a half stars.