Available this week on DVD, “Enough Said” stars Julia-Louise Dreyfuss and the late James Gandolfini, in his penultimate film role. She is best-known for her role in the long-running TV comedy “Seinfeld”; he will be mostly recalled for his portrayal of Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos,” the multiple Emmy-winning series about a Mob family. Both actors shine in writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s comedy covering a few months in the lives of two middle-aged Los Angeles divorcees whose daughters are leaving for college, presenting these two rather lonely people with empty nests. It’s a small movie, well-cast, and its two principal actors deliver richly.
Gandolfini plays Albert, the burly curator of a TV show archive; Dryefuss is Eva, a masseuse whose work and clients are wearing on her. The two meet at a party where they both admit that they aren’t attracted to anyone else there, although Eva strikes up a business connection and potential friendship with Marianne, a poet and (unbeknownst to Eva), Albert’s ex-wife. She also begins dating and, eventually, sleeping with Albert. In a plot twist reminiscent of classical comedy, none of the three knows of the relationships, at least not fully enough to catch what’s going on.
That ignorance gives rise to some deft comic ironies, especially as Marianne continually trashes her ex to Eva’s listening ear. But when Eva discovers that the trashee is Albert but doesn’t let on to Marianne, the fun takes on an edge. Desperate to fill the looming hole in her life, Eva maintains the pretense, though it affects her romance with Albert. She lets other people know the situation but keeps the most important ones in the dark. Of course, this can’t continue: when it all comes out, some friendships are severed, some hearts broken. This being comedy, some healing ultimately occurs, but at cost.
As Eva’s departing daughter, Ellen, young Tracey Fairaway comes off as natural and credible, especially to parents whose kids have gone off to college. Her best friend, Chloe (Tavi Gevenson), is staying, though alienated from her own mother, obliging Eva to become something of a surrogate Mom and setting up another tension that furthers the theme of loss and loneliness that runs just under the comic surface. A second subplot involving Eva’s best friend and confidant, Sarah (Toni Collette) does some dramatic machinery work but mostly drags down the film’s energy.
I’d much rather have seen more development of Eva and Albert’s relationship, by turns witty and hurtful. Dreyfuss and Gandolfini play off each other superbly, so it’s surprising that Holofcernes doesn’t rely more on their chemistry. Their dialogue is so well crafted and expertly delivered that we can go for long stretches forgetting they are actors — a rare occurrence in movies of any era but especially now, when ordinary people are so infrequently the filmmakers’ objects of attention.
“Enough Said” is appropriately rated “PG-13” for language and sexual situations. It’s adult fare, in any case: you have to have lived a certain length of time, screwed up a sufficient number of times to appreciate the mix of humor and pathos. It was widely distributed and enjoyed modest theatrical success, despite critical acclaim. But fans of old-fashioned (though certainly modern in its sensibilities) comedy should get the video. It’s a good escape from the throes of winter.