Monday, October 14, 2013

A LOVELY DOSE OF ROMANTIC REALITY: a review of "Enough Said"

Written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

My distaste for the current status of movie love stories and romantic comedies due to convoluted plots and downright unrealistic characters and even moreso, un-romantic behavior, has been no secret to any of you dear readers who have ever followed my postings. That said, 2012 displayed several features that seemed to suggest that the tide of cinematic love stories just may be turning for the better as convoluted plotting was eschewed for the shocking novelty of creating characters that not only felt to exist in the same universe as the audience but ones who experienced the same emotions. This year, this trend has continued with one of the year's very best films, Writer/Director Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight" and it continues with the high quality of "Enough Said," the latest film from the terrific Writer/Director Nicole Holofcener, a filmmaker of unquestionable honesty, razor sharp humor, probing insightfulness and fearlessness with having her characters confront their own, at times, worst impulses, faults and fears. Do not let the blandly generic and pitifully uninformative title steer you away as "Enough Said" is an adult romantic comedy made by adults for adults that places the realities of romance front and center with class, grace, truth and loveliness.

The great Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Eva, a middle aged, divorced, masseuse who is also Mother to her 18 year old daughter Ellen (played by Tracey Fairaway) who is just about to leave home for college, much to Eva's dread. While accompanying her married friends Sarah and Will (played by Toni Colette and Ben Falcone) to a social gathering, Eva finds herself making two fateful connections. The first is with Marianne (Catherine Keener), a poet and divorcee who will soon become Eva's new masseuse client and close confidant and the second is Albert (the late James Gandolfini), a lonely, divorced Father, also harboring his own trepidation with sending his daughter off to college, and who may soon become the new great romance in Eva's life.

In addition to existing as yet another most welcome breath of fresh air into the romantic comedy film genre, Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said" extends itself from its main plot line by also featuring a subtle yet perceptive take on class consciousness (a regular Holofcener theme) and mostly, the presentation of a small constellation of characters who are all involved in the turbulent push/pull of relationships which are all on the verge of natural change. In addition to the love story between Eva and Albert, we are witness to the occasional prickliness between the married Sarah and Will, the tentative friendship between Eva and Marianne and most poignantly, the relationships between Albert, Eva and their respective daughters, as well as the budding relationship between Eva and her daughter's best friend Chloe (played by Tavi Gevinson), which causes jealousy on Ellen's part even though she is trying to find her own feet away from her Mother for the first time. Within all of those relationships, Holofcener never overplays her hand, wisely and humorously finds one kernel of truth after another and just allows the characters and material to flow along in an unforced, matter-of-fact fashion.

In regards to Holofcener's writing, "Enough Said" like "Your Sister's Sister" (2012) from Writer/Director Lynn Shelton, the film contains a plot development (which I will not reveal) that would not feel remotely out of place on a sitcom or better yet, a typical wacky romantic comedy. But, what Holofcener does so smartly is to treat this plot development as realistically as possible and with all of the emotional warts firmly and unapologetically in place, making what could have been ridiculous contrivances uncomfortably believable. And it is indeed that certain awkwardness and even squeamishness that is indeed a uniquely powerful staple of Holofcener's films.

With all of her past films, which include "Walking And Talking" (1996), "Lovely And Amazing" (2001), "Friends With Money" (2006) and "Please Give" (2010),  I have always loved how she allows her characters to talk and talk themselves into precarious emotional situations and in the moments of silence, allow us to see the exquisite pain that arrives. With "Enough Said," Holofcener's moments of silence are filled with the exquisite pain that arrives with middle age, as the letting go of children combined with the difficult acceptance and/or rejection of past and current foibles and failures are all stepping stones for the characters to again perform some serious soul searching-the type of which can easily translate to the members in the movie theater audience. Are we in the station of life that we had once hoped for ourselves? Are we with the person we are meant to be with? Is true love forever elusive or even obtainable and should we even try especially if we have already experiences disappointment or failure? Does romance ever get easier as we age and are supposedly wiser than we were when younger? Nicole Holofcener is provocatively in tune with all of those questions as she is sympathetic, understanding and wisely critical of her characters as their sense of self-preservation and emotional protectiveness sometimes serves towards another character's undoing. While the character of Eva is presented as an "every-woman" for us to root for, she indeed makes some serious errors in nearly all of her relationships and I appreciated how Holofcener was unafraid in allowing us to see Eva's imperfections.

Furthermore, and on a more cosmetic level, I have also always appreciated how Nicole Holofcener tries to circumvent audience's perceived standards of women's physical beauty within her films and "Enough Said" is no exception. I loved how Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Catherine Keener and Toni Colette (to a lesser degree) all appeared with little to no makeup in the film, and Holofcener places the camera closely to their faces, allowing us to regard the lines and creases on their faces, as well as and other visual signs of advancing age, yet also showing us that these women, especially Louis-Dreyfus have only grown more and more luminous.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been an actress who has habitually shown audiences the high quality of her career choices, and frankly, it has always been a wonder to me why she has not appeared in more feature films over the years. Perhaps, it is because the quality of women's roles on television are exponentially higher than those in film but whatever the reason, she is a gift to any creative visual storyteller, whether in film or television, wise enough to snap up her immense talents. In "Enough Said" Julia Louis-Dreyfus, once again, shows that she is completely the real deal. While there has never been any question as to her ability to be funny as her long television history from "Saturday Night Live" to "Seinfeld" to "The New Adventures Of Old Christine" to HBO's ferociously profane "Veep" and her myriad of guest appearances can attest. What she really proved to me with this film is that aside from being a comedic actress of the highest order, she is a strong, perceptive actress period. With the character of Eva, she truly creates a full three dimensional figure that is instantly and knowingly familiar, occasionally maddening, quick with a quip, certainly flirtatious and sexy, smothering, frustrating, short-sighted, and capable of making devastating errors in judgement, not through some ridiculous plot convention but because she is so recognizably human. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicole Holofcener make for a perfect creative pairing which I hope collaborate again in the future.

And then, there is the unlikely yet surprisingly beautiful chemistry between Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini.

"Enough Said" is a bittersweet testament to the titanic talent we have all lost with the passing of James Gandolfini, and I feel it to be a blessing that we are able to see yet another side of this voluminously talented actor one more time. Once "The Sopranos" concluded, I truly felt that he would have been forever tied to the character of the psychologically tormented mobster Tony Soprano as his miraculous performance was so complete and executed from the inside out. Man, did he prove me wrong again and again (especially with his work in Director Spike Jonze's gloriously melancholy "Where The Wild Things Are" from 2009) and in "Enough Said," the massive persona of Tony Soprano is completely erased. The character of Albert, reportedly much closer to the real world individual Gandolfini actually was, is a gentle, sensitive, frisky, soulful gentleman nursing past wounds and current fears while attempting to forge ahead in his advancing middle age and hopefully with Eva. While I am gently pushing all of you to seek out this film for its high quality, I also urge you to head out and see this film in tribute to an actor who, after already accomplishing so much, was really only beginning to stretch his acting wings and soar even higher. It is a lovely, lovely performance and James Gandolfini will be tremendously missed!

Now that we have all seen "Gravity" (perhaps even more than once) and before more major releases barrel their way into our theaters, please, please,please make some time to go and see "Enough Said." While this is not an earth shaking film or even one of the year's very best offerings, it is a film that is just nipping at the heels of 2013's best. It is a heartfelt film that further cements Nicole Holofcener's talents as a terrifically idiosyncratic filmmaker and storyteller as well as proves without question that quality films with adult sensibilities and love stories that bloom and ache are still being made and released.

We just have to be there to give them a little help!

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