“Most of our friends we find interesting find us boring: the most interesting find us most boring. The few who are somewhere in the middle with whom there is reciprocal interest, we distrust: at any moment, we feel, they may become too interesting for us, or we too interesting for them”
-- Lydia Davis, Boring Friends
At the heart of Enough Said—the latest from writer/director Nicole Holofcener, the last from James Gandolfini, the best from Julia Louis-Dreyfus—sits a sit-com contrivance. You may already know this from the preview: massage therapist Eva (Dreyfus) meets television archivist Albert (Gandolfini) and superstar poet Marianne (Catherine Keener) at a party and begins dating him and massaging her. She swiftly figures out that Marianne is Albert’s ex-wife and, a bit gunshy from her own divorce, befriends Marianne and pumps her for information. Soon, Eva can’t stop seeing Albert—whom she is falling in love with—through the poisoned eyes of his ex-wife.
Were the genders reversed, this plot device could be the A story of a garden variety Frasier episode, and some critics find the presence of its contrived plotting odious enough that it wrecks the film. What is fascinating and compelling about Enough Said are the ways it seriously asks itself what kind of person would actually engage in a sit-com plot? And the answer, of course, is somewhat a bit desperate, a bit selfish, and so charming that few people around them can see either.
The wonder of Enough Said is in its gradual revelation of character, and how this revelation slowly upends the viewer’s understanding of Eva, and how much about Eva’s life and world and psychology is subtly crammed into its scant ninety minute running time. For while it’s never overtly discussed, Enough Said is very much a film about class and—to use a term sure to strike nausea into acting students everywhere—status.
Eva, like many of Holofcener’s protagonists, is in a world that is above her own station. Everyone around her is better off than she is, from her best friends (who we first meet arguing about whether or not to fire their full-time cleaning lady) to her clients, of whom we see just enough of to notice the well appointed environments they inhabit, and who offhandedly ignore Eva’s humanity. Marianne might be a poet, but she’s popular and beloved enough to be accosted on the street and has enough money to have a home that Eva believes is perfect. She’s friends with Joni Mitchell, and possessed with a kind of glamor.
Eva’s aspirational desires and all-consuming need blind her to what the audience can clearly see. From the moment we meet Toni Collette’s Sarah and Ben Falcone’s Will, for example, we know their marriage is in trouble, possibly even doomed. Marianne is a horror show. She’s constantly cruel, monstrously selfish, and barely able to fake interest in the people who have been so affected by her work. Eva’s neediness even blinds her to the ways that she is destroying her relationship with her own self-sufficient daughter by chasing after the affections of her daughter’s troubled best friend.
But then there’s Albert. Menschy, slovenly Albert, a bear of a man with “paddles for hands,” who is charming but not particularly clever, decent but not glamorous, stable but not rich. A guy who invites Eva over for a second-date brunch and answers the door wearing sweatpants and sandals. A guy whose job involves watching and cataloguing yesteryear’s television all day long. Albert is resolutely uncool, unrich, unenviable.
Eva’s never gives voice to her panic that she might be fucking down instead of up, but it adds ballast to the feather-brained plotting and suffuses every pained look on Dreyfus’s face as she debates Albert’s worth. It also underscores the film’s masterful (and excruciating) climactic double date between Albert, Eva, Sarah and Ben.
Both Eva and the film she inhabits are so goddamn charming that the dark and desperate dynamics underlying both take their sweet time emerging. It’s telling that Eva spends the first half of the movie serving up one-liners only to confess to Albert after the first time they have sex that she’s tired of being funny. Charm, after all, means not only the ability to give delight, but also an enchanted objected that can be worn as a ward against the world. There are multiple terrors lurking in Enough Said. The terror of being uncool, yes, but also the terror of being unloved, and of being alone. What we truly fear in our own lives is more often than not something that has already happened. The two everyday traumas of Eva’s life—her past divorce, her daughter’s impending departure for college—are the twin poles of Enough Said, and while they fuel Eva’s initial generosity and charm, they eventually pull her apart.
Holofcener handles all of this with a light touch, and it’s the tension between the film’s surface lightness and subterranean depths that makes the film so moving, and such a delight to watch. Enough Said is, in many ways—its structure, its not-quite-resolved ending, the low-key redemptions it holds out, its use of dialogue and action to reveal and transform character—like a great short story, the kind you might read on a melancholy Saturday when you’re in the mood.
The film is only strengthened by its performances. Eva is in every single scene; we only hear what she hears and sees what she sees. Dreyfus more than carries the film, she is marvelous in it, bringing just the right kind of ingratiating energy while showing us glimpses of the misery underneath. One of the film’s great achievements is that I’m still unsure how I feel about Eva as a human being a week later, even as I find her compelling as a character. While you’re watching the film, it’s also hard not to find yourself ultimately drawn to Gandolfini. Not only is he playing the rare Holofcener male character who isn’t a yutz, but his performance is easy, graceful, casually worn yet thoroughly convincing. A kind of transference occurs within the film. Eva’s fear that she might lose Albert becomes our recognition that we have lost the actor playing him, a recognition underscored by the film’s dedication “For Jim” during the credits.
For all I’ve talked about some of its darker currents, at the end of the day, Enough Said is still a romantic comedy, one of the few artistically successful ones in recent memory. This also means that it follows the structures of a romantic comedy, and is quite predictable. What ultimately makes Enough Said wonderful—and it is, truly, wonderful, one of my favorite movies of the year—is how, through taking the familiar structures and plots of a rom-com seriously, and by investing deeply in character, it manages to reinvigorate the form, if not quite reinvent it. Enough Said demonstrates convincingly why the rom-com’s ossified plot gestures became so hardened in the first place.