Sadly, James Gandolfini is gone, and all was have left of new material are a couple of movies that have yet to be released. One of his last, ENOUGH SAID, a romantic comedy written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, will be released Wednesday. I caught it at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Gandolfini may seem like an unlikely love interest in a romantic comedy, but that’s part of the point of the film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character Eva has to decide if she’s in love with his character, Albert, or whether some of his peculiarities are just too much to take. Albert and Eva are both divorced, and each has a daughter about to head off to college. Eva is a massage therapist, and one of her clients, Marianne (Catherine Keener) is starting to become Eva’s best friend, except her constant complaining about her ex-husband add to Eva’s issues about Albert. Meanwhile, her other best friend, Sarah (Toni Collette) is still on her first marriage to Will (Ben Falcone), somewhat serving as a counterpoint to all the divorcees in the mix.
You know the Bechdel test? To pass, a film has to have at least two women, who talk to each other about something besides a man. ENOUGH SAID is kind of a twisted inverse of that. It barely has men, they pretty much only talk to women, and most of what is talked about are relationships. And the relations are mature relationships. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing -- I’m just saying that the target audience here is solidly middle-aged women. Don’t expect anything to transform into a giant robot and destroy a city. Interesting enough for this audience though, James Gandolfini’s character works in an archive of television history. There are a couple interesting asides about great (and not so great) moments in television.
ENOUGH SAID won’t be winning any academy awards, but it mostly succeeds at what it is going for -- exploring mature relationship issues that we seldom see tackled in Hollywood (or to some extent even in romantic comedies). Second marriages are not as sexy as young love. On the contrary, they are more often the butt of jokes in film. But they happen all the time. This sort of sincerity about people trying to find a connection, at times awkwardly, and coming to terms with their own past failures, is the essence of what works in ENOUGH SAID. The comedy element is less successful, The jokes largely revolve around Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character getting herself into an absurd situation that would be easily resolved if she just told the truth.
Gandolfini has a pretty straight-ahead role here. He’s as lovable as ever, but instead of the dark side we’re used to in THE SOPRANOS, we get just a guy with minor flaws. Any limitations are on the page, but he does a fine job with the material he has. The more interestingly flawed character is Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Eva. She’s so worried about Albert being imperfect that she tends to sabotage things. This works up to a point, but the character borders on just being annoying. Still, I give the movie points for only partially following the romantic comedy formula. Characters do slightly ridiculous things, but usually not clownishly so.
There are a couple of subplots about the daughters. Eve Hewson (Bono and Ali Hewson’s daughter) plays Albert’s daughter. She’s improbably hot to be the spawn of Gandolfini, but stranger things have happened (e.g. Voight -> Jolie) . At first her character is arrogant and doesn’t connect with Eva, but eventually she softens. Meanwhile Tracey Fairaway plays Eva’s daughter, Ellen. [Full disclosure, I’m friends with her sister, so I’ll refrain from reviewing her performance out of a conflict of interest.] Ellen often has her friend Chloe over (Tavi Gevinson), and gets upset when her mom seems to connect better with her friend than with her. I have to say that I enjoyed the daughter subplots more than the main story, and I wish we’d gotten a bit more of that. Maybe it is because I knew less of what to expect, not having seen the younger actresses in other films. Gandolfini’s and Louis-Dreyfus’s characters are kind of limited by what audiences expect from those actors and their functions in a romantic comedy.
ENOUGH SAID isn’t reinventing the wheel, and it doesn’t quite come together in every way it could have. Still, it is worth seeing if you want to see James Gandolfini one penultimate time, if you are into romantic comedies, if you want to see mature subjects explored.