Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Gandolfini's Final Performance Anchors the Beautiful Romantic Comedy ENOUGH SAID (2013)

I know this probably sounds really trite, but divorce crushes a person. When you marry someone, you vow to give them your heart and soul (and your liver, your spine, and pretty much every other essential part of yourself), and the problem is that you actually do. Most people give so much of themselves when they get married, that when the relationship falls apart, it feels as though the very world around you has been torn asunder. Those emotional earthquakes rattle the very core of your being, and leave you feeling hollow and lifeless. There is no way to give of yourself so freely and not be devastated by the separation of a spouse, regardless of the reason.

Getting back on your feet is a slow process, filled with so many steps forward followed immediately by what seems to be a million steps backward. It is hard to be alone, hard to rediscover your own identity separate from that person with whom you shared so much of your life. The progress you make seldom feels like progress. Every relationship feels like a 3rd generation copy of your marriage, almost unrecognizable, yet triggering virtually all the same soft spots and wounds. Eventually, you will find homeostasis, will find a new way to live and love and be loved. It happens in degrees.

Enough Said, the beautiful romantic comedy from Nicole Holofcener, isn’t so much about romance as it is about discovering that we are worthy of love. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a divorced masseuse who gets involved with a sweet, gentle man named Albert (James Gandolfini). Like any divorcee looking to test the waters of a new relationship, her trepidation leads her into some uncomfortable waters. The movie’s twist involves Eva discovering her new client, Marianne (Catherine Keener), is Albert’s ex-wife. Instead of being honest, or walking away from the job, Eva becomes Marianne’s friend in hopes that by learning about Albert from his ex will help her to better understand the uncharted waters she finds herself drowning in. The premise has the stink of a cheap high concept rom-com written all over it, but Holofcener’s script, combined with the endearing central performances, it rises above the sitcom and becomes a sincere exploration of love during midlife.

Part of the film’s success is the way in which Holofcener has created a simple, but fully realized world around her characters. Eva’s problems are not limited to love. Her daughter is leaving for college. Chloe, her daughter’s best friend, lingers around the house, seeking motherly advice. Eva’s best friend, Sarah (Toni Collette) is a psychiatrist who has a compulsive habit of constantly rearranging the living room furniture and picking on her inefficient housekeeper. Meanwhile, Albert is dealing with an impending empty nest as well, and he and the ex can’t seem to settle on who will take their daughter to the airport. He works as an archivist of old TV shows at a museum, happy to live in the comforts of past instead of plunging into the uncomfortable future.

Gandolfini’s performance is stands out here. His sensitivity is key to the movie’s success. You can’t help but love the big galoot. No matter how much venom his ex spits at his memory, he looms large as a man who merely wants acceptance for his distaste of onions, inability to whisper at an acceptable volume, and collection of mouthwashes under the sink. As Eva falls deeper into her spiral of insecurity and neurosis, Albert is the port in the storm, reminding us that while he may not have been what Marianne wanted or needed, he is still someone remarkably worthy of love, and capable of giving the love someone needs. To show this, the movie doesn’t need Albert to perform many gestures. Just a close-up of Gandolfini’s teddy bear face is enough to communicate all this and more.

It’s refreshing to see a romantic comedy that strives to look seriously at the real emotional issues facing people in the aftermath of divorce. The need to go as broad as possible often leads to bland caricatures masquerading as characters. Enough Said avoids this pitfall and allows its characters to fall in love on their own terms.