Nicole Holocefner has quietly become one of the most important female voices working in cinema today, her keen understanding of the experience of being a woman and her gentle way of conveying emotion is so well-done as to be deceptively simple. To make something this carefully crafted and drenched in realism isn’t easy, it’s one of the hardest tasks there is. As Truffaut preached, “The film of tomorrow will be an act of love,” and Holocefner is living proof of the truth of that statement.
Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) is a masseuse living in Los Angeles, divorced for ten years, her only daughter (Tracey Fairaway) about to head off to college far away. When Eva meets Albert (James Gandolfini) at a party, she reluctantly agrees to go out with him, and begins to like him despite his faults. Her friendship with another partygoer (Catherine Keener) begins to flourish, she struggles to maintain perspective amidst the opinions of friends both new and old (Toni Collette, Ben Falcone). A woman with a lot going on, Eva juggles her desire for relationship with her knowledge that most relationships end in failure, her depression over her daughter leaving with the increased presence of her daughter’s best friend in her life, her older and more comfortable friendship with her exotic new bohemian friend she can’t help but want to impress. “Enough Said” is not only the documentation of a coincidence, and the impact it has on numerous lives, but the story of the never ending struggle in relationships to balance the opinions of those we trust, those we want to impress and our own quiet inner voice.
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss won my heart this year with her exceptional work in VEEP, but it was this performance that brought me to an awareness of her true talent as an actress and absolute mastery over her face and emotions. Her face is able to contort into the most exquisite expressions, sadness and joy. It feels strange to see someone laugh so freely, smile so widely in this era of fretting over wrinkles, but her laughter is infectious, her joy even more so. The interactions between her and Gandolfini are often strangely mannered, but deeply rooted in realism, their conversations stilted at times, the knowing glances and awkward hesitations so perfect it is, again, deceptively simple. More than anything I was reminded of how hard it is to get to know someone. How tiresome to start over and over in relationships, having to re-acclimate, re-learn, re-teach yourself to another person. How little time there is to waste, and how frustrating it is when people waste that time, especially as you get older.
Though there are many laughs to be found, the the film is quite sad at times, made all the more sad by the constant presence of James Gandolfini. I had doubted his ability as a romantic lead, but I take it all back. His acting is exceptional enough to supersede the sad truth of his death, but for much of the film it’s difficult to look at him, knowing this was one of his last films. When an actor dies, it’s all too easy to either attribute too much excellence to their work (no one wants to speak ill of the dead) or to look for hints of foreknowledge in their performances. I study his face in each scene, wondering if his sad, slow, gentle smile holds anything more than what’s needed for the scene. But, no. There’s no way he could have known, and his sad smiles are simple the exhaustion of hope, another false start, another attempt to love someone.
As far as the humor of the film — the jokes landed marvelously well with my packed out theater crowd of mostly elderly people. One joke revolved around how loud it was in a restaurant, that the two people on a date could not hear themselves. Because they were old. And it was loud. So, a few dumb aging jokes aside, the fact that this movie revolves around the dating and relational lives of 50-year-olds does not lessen the truths it contains about men and women and the complicated search for love.
One of Holocefner’s greatest talents is her ability to balance and utilize her ensemble casts, and “Enough Said” is no different. The supporting performances are uniformly delightful, from Toni Collette as Eva’s best friend and confidante, Tavi Gevinson as Eva’s daughter’s best friend, and of course, Catherine Keener as a poet/client/friend who holds enormous influence over Eva’s way of thinking, as an example of a successful woman who leads a good life.
Holocefner’s writing captures something fleeting and realistic about the lives of girls and women. While she celebrates women, she’s relentlessly committed to portraying whole characters in all their evil/bitchy/strange/simple glory, and this allows women to step beyond caricatures of unhappy wives, unfulfilled lovers, (so tiresome!) and instead step out as multi-dimensional creatures, filled with many concerns and as many flaws as virtues. Her writing and directing, along with the work of writers such as Alice Munro, is effortlessly timeless, and incredibly intuitive. Watching her films, it’s easy to see the same fears, struggles and difficulties in older women as they exist in my own life today. Making good decisions doesn’t necessarily become any easier, as we are still ourselves today, tomorrow and always. The same problems that plague me now will plague me in twenty years, and what we will face in the future is seeded into our lives now.
We make our mistakes, we ask our forgivenesses, we forgive in turn, and we believe that despite our broken hearts and our heartbreaking past, there is a future for us, one of our own making.