by Sam Scott
It’s a common complaint that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for adults anymore. Well, here one is – Enough Said, showing at the SUT February 13 – 16 at 7:30 p.m. Granted, the average age of most SUT attendees isn’t even half that of the characters, but this one is still worth a watch –for a while. In fact, I should clarify my rating at the top of the page – Enough Said is made up of one part four-star movie and two parts two-star movie.
Let me explain. It’s the story of two divorcees and their attempts to build a new relationship as their kids go away to school. One of themis Eva, a masseuse played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, who is best know for her role as Elaine Benes in Seinfeld. The other is named Albert, played by James Gandolfini, who is widely recognizable as Tony Sopranos in “The Sopranos.” It is a testament to this movie’s strengths that they manage to create completely new characters despite their TV-star baggage. Gandolfini’s Albert is a self-proclaimed fat slob who torpedoed his last marriage. But Gandolfini gives him so much warmth and charm that makes it easy to see why Eva would fall for him, even if she does close her eyes when they have sex. Anyone who can make a joke about the “Real Housewives of Idiot Town” funny was gone far too soon. Louis-Dreyfuss fills her character with wonderfully believable awkwardness, helped in no small part by writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s witty and naturalistic dialogue. When she gets trapped in an awkward conversation about fake boobs, she doesn’t go for the kind of overplayed cringe comedy we’re used to in the movies, but the kind of real conversation that we all know from experience.
It doesn’t hurt that her character, at least for the first half hour, is beautifully and complexly written. Besides all the ups and downs of her relationship with Albert, we get to see a great portrait of growing up from the parent’s point of view. She is overly affectionate with her daughter, and even more to her daughter’s friend Chloe. At one point we see her, in full mom attire, knitting and all, casually discussing some gossip about a threesome with them while they try on dresses. You get the sense that she’s grooming Chloe (who’ll stay in town for another year) as a replacement daughter, and Holofcener treats the subject with great subtlety and insight. For a while. If the movie had focused on that, it might have been one of the best of the year.
But it isn’t, and it’s easy to pinpoint exactly where the story goes off the rails. See, one of Eva’s best masseusing clients is a poet named Marianne played by Catherine Keener. They develop a close relationship and most of their conversations center around her awful ex-husband. And then, guess what? Her ex is actually Albert!
“That is an unbelievable coincidence,” Eva’s best friend tells her later and yes. Yes it is. And just when it introduces a stupid rom-com twist, Enough Said lets that stupidity infect everything in it. Of course, Eva doesn’t tell either of the people involved that she’s involved with the other one, and Holofcener tries to milk a lot of dramatic irony out of the setup. Here’s the thing: irony is a very delicate tool and not like, say, a hammer bang-bang-banging every joke into the viewer’s head. And to a screenwriter with a hammer, oh boy does everything look like a nail. Marianne talks about how she thought Albert was a great cook until she found out he could only make eggplant Parmesan. Then Eva goes to meet him and, guess what! He made eggplant Parmesan! (BANG BANG BANG) What really sinks this approach is not only that its stupidity sinks a promising slice-of-life movie, but that it’s still too subtle to work as a lowbrow comedy.
Even the awkward realism of the beginning takes a nosedive into over-the-top cringiness. For instance, Eva, her ex-husband, and his second wife, Fran, are at a dinner to send her daughter off to school, and the conversation turns to how much everybody hates their exes(BANG BANG BANG). So Fran talks about her ex and Eva starts making fun of him until Fran flatly lets us know that he’s dead (BANG BANG BANG). The movie almost pulls off a save in a moving scene where Dreyfuss looks through her daughter’s baby pictures and then starts more explicitly grooming Chloe to be a replacement daughter. She lets her know that she can stay in her house after her daughter leaves. Then the daughter comes home, sees them together, and discusses the situation, and you know what she says? “Next thing I know, you’ll be moving her into my room.” (BANG BANG BANG). That said, if you’re in the mood for a nice, largely empty movie, you could do a lot worse than at least see one-third of a great movie, with some brilliant performances all the way through.
Enough Said will be playing at 7:30 at the SUT from Feb. 13-16.