I was less than amused by the contrived and crude humor in It's Complicated; yawned my way through the tired storyline of Something's Gotta Give; and fidgeted uncomfortably while witnessing an over-the-hill couple struggle with intimacy issues in Hope Springs. Needless to say then, the thought of watching yet another middle-age romance made me weary.* And yet somehow, The Husband and I found ourselves at the cinema last Tuesday evening, purchasing tickets for Enough Said, a movie that, from the trailers, promised the very premise that for me, had gotten old. Pun intended.
I should have known better. When you place the mammoth talents of Julia Louise-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in the hands of a writer/director as sharply perceptive as Nicole Holofcener (doesn't hurt that her entry into Hollywood was under the tutelage of the ever-discerning Woody Allen), the results are bound to stand out from the rest.
10 years divorced, with a loving daughter (Tracey Fairaway) whose one foot is out the door on her way to university, Eva (Dreyfus), a masseuse in her mid-50s, is painfully aware of having to redefine the impending new phase of her life before the loneliness of empty-nest syndrome sets in.
So when she meets Albert (Gandolfini) at a party and begins dating him soon afterwards, she is delighted at having found someone she genuinely clicks with. Albert is overweight, balding, and a bit of a slob--but he's also effortlessly lovable, unashamedly vulnerable, and a fellow divorcee on the verge of sending his own daughter off to college. Connecting to him with unexpected ease on everything from a distaste of loud restaurants to the visual symptoms of aging and the challenges of single parenthood, Eva is surprised at how comfortable they are together, and how quickly her feelings for him grow.
Meanwhile, she also finds both a new client and friend in Marianne (Catherine Keener). A poet who dazzles her with an impeccable home, yogini-esque aura, and first name basis with Joni Mitchell, Marianne also happens to be Albert's former wife--a coincidence unbeknownst to anyone except Eva. Still bitter about her failed marriage, and thrilled to finally have a confidante, Marianne doesn't hold back in divulging the idiosyncrasies she found maddening about her ex-husband; suddenly, Eva finds herself having become the sounding board for endless complaints about own new boyfriend.
When you've already lived half your life and had your share of heartbreak and missteps along the way, it's only natural to approach every new major decision or turn of events with a degree of trepidation, afraid of mistakes you think you can no longer afford to make.
Perhaps this is why Eva never confesses to either party, using Marianne's consistent stream of criticisms of Albert to discover his imperfections and, in subsequent conversations with her best friend (Toni Collette, as a psychologist who may benefit from some therapy herself), judge the course of her own relationship with him. Soon, all the quirks that initially made Albert sweetly endearing to Eva--his guacamole-eating technique, his slightly unkempt home, his limited culinary repertoire--become reasons to question him as a partner after being clouded by Marianne's tainted lens. But in her preoccupation with how Albert's faults could lead their relationship to disaster, Eva may actually be the one digging them into a hole.
There is a moment in Enough Said where, acknowledging her use of humor to mask her deeper insecurity, Eva admits, "I'm tired of being funny." The line summarizes, albeit inadvertently, one of the biggest traps that previous films about love over 50 fall into; presumably desperate to appeal to all ages, they subject their older actors to plot points better suited for 25 year olds, and drive them to histrionics that border on buffoonery.
Ironically, in spite of Eva's confession, Enough Said manages to achieve funny without forcing it or resorting to caricatures and melodrama. The twist that forms the central plot may be unlikely; however, the reasons it occurs, the sentiments that surround it, and the humor that arises from it are entirely plausible, thanks in large part to a screenplay that reflects Holofcener's subtle yet solid understanding of human nature. Dreyfus, Gandolfini, and their supporting cast shine in their portrayals of carefully-etched characters that are notable for being flawed but not unsympathetic, and likable without trying too hard. No hysterical breakdowns a la Diane Keaton necessary to create comic relief; no need for the 60 year old male lead to be a stereotypical womanizer to convince younger viewers of his desirability. The combination of a minimally embellished script, Dreyfus's sheepish smile, Gandolfini's good-natured self-deprecation, and their natural chemistry work together to elicit from us a frequent chuckle, and occasionally move us to the hint of a tear.
During their first date, we watch Eva and Albert discuss their methods of home organization and debate the merits of The Container Store. In another scene, Eva snuggles into her daughter's bed and, in a typical moment of parental curiosity, asks her what she ate the previous day. Even the unfolding of the climax is refreshingly undramatic, mercifully free from eyeroll-inducing displays of excessive emotion. At moments like this, we realize the deceptive difficulty of using the nuanced, more real moments of personal interactions to tell a compelling story while still managing to preserve the zingers and zest of a successful comedy. It is a reminder to appreciate filmmakers like Holofcener for crafting simultaneously witty and authentic characters, recognize the rarity of actors who can do them justice, and lament all the more the loss of an artist as versatile and valuable as Gandolfini.
With simple, unembellished dialogue, equally authentic delivery, and deeply compassionate treatment, Enough Said is honest, heartfelt, and wise; an astute portrait of two adults navigating the unique challenges and rewards of mid-life relationships.
*come to think of it, why have I seen so many movies about middle-age romance anyway? #SlightlyWorried