I think I’m going to have to start watching ‘The Sopranos’. The first time I saw James Gandolfini in anything was ‘True Romance’, his was a short but stand-out performance as a hitman hunting down the runaway couple and having watched him in ‘Enough Said’, he’s someone I want to see more of. He’s the kind of actor who brings a likeable quality to the characters they portray, even if that character is a killer for hire, or a television library archivist (my idea of the perfect job!).
In ‘Enough Said’, he plays Albert, a guy I warmed to very quickly. He’s got an encyclopaedic knowledge of US television; he’s a self-confessed slob and I felt a great deal of empathy for this lovely guy through every step of the story. Albert and Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) meet at a party, Eva also separately meets Marianne (Catherine Keener); she begins to date Albert and become a new friend to Marianne. It’s no spoiler to say that unbeknownst to Eva (at first, and for a while), Albert and Marianne used to be married, Albert doesn’t know Eva and Marianne have become friends; Marianne doesn’t know that the ‘flabby guy’ Eva is dating is her ex-husband.
The best way to describe this is as a classy rom com for grown-ups. It has a very Woody Allen style to it – unsurprising given that writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s stepfather produced Allen’s movies and she worked on a few of them herself. The style is more modern than Woody Allen though, and not quite as self-reflective and dare I say, whiney. This is no high school romance, it’s not another modern re-telling of Cinderella, there is no Bridget Jones style angst about being single. The protagonists are established people in their 40’s, they have children on the verge of leaving home, they’re both divorced, and they both know how relationships that at first can seem like everything, can sometimes turn sour.
There’s a realism to this movie, there aren’t any melodramatic moments, there’s just life and how one interacts with others in the many different types of relationships. The story is primarily told through Eva and so we mainly see the different types of relationships in her life. Aside from her relationship with Albert, and with her new friend Marianne, there’s the interaction between Eva and her daughter; Eva and her daughters’ friend; Eva and her ex-husband, Eva and her ex-husbands’ wife; Eva’s relationship with her best friend Sarah (Toni Collette); Sarah’s relationship with her husband and even Sarah’s dysfunctional relationship with their maid.
There are some interesting observations on the dissatisfaction that comes with all these relationships and how they are often left to fester. Complaints are rarely made directly to the person in question, more often to a third party; so here, Eva talks to Sarah and Marianne about Albert; Eva’s daughter’s friend talks to her about her relationship with her mother, and Marianne talks to Eva about the many issues she had with her ex, Albert. Weirdly, Sarah and her husband choose to raise their complaints about each other in front of each other in company, but they couch it in terms of theoretical situations, ‘If I were to get married again, I’d…’. Sometimes the irritations get too much, and the relationship ends, and sometimes irritations are just something you learn to live with that’s preferable to losing the person from your life.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the perfect lead for this movie and the chemistry between her and James is palpable as their character’s relationship deepens. I feel like I’ve been around Julia’s work for most of my adult life, I used to love her as Elaine in ‘Seinfeld’, then as a version of herself in ‘Curb’ then as the lead in ‘Veep’ and latterly in ‘Onward’ and ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’. Eva is an interesting character, she seems content with her life, her family, her friends but is open to new people; she also knows her own flaws and is open to change. She works as a masseuse and every time she meets someone new she is faced with the same questions anyone who does that job must constantly be asked; she fields these observations with a polite boredom. And again, even with her clients, they have their idiosyncrasies that irritate her and rather than address the problem and risk losing them as a client, she chooses to make the best of it.
I found it refreshing to see that one of the many realisations in this movie is that what one person thinks of as a flaw in another is often subjective. One of the lessons here is that everyone can be everything to someone and nothing to someone else. Everyone deserves to find their ‘one’ and to have a shot at happiness regardless of whether someone else has discarded them. It reminds me of something someone once said to me that ‘there’s a lid for every pot’.
Given the central premise of Albert & Marianne not knowing that they both know Eva, you might expect many a farcical situation, but this movie isn’t about playing up to that. There are maybe two instances where it comes close, but the situations are dealt in a more relatable way and not for obvious laughs. The laugh out loud moments are naturally driven, the kind of laughs you would have in a real-life situation if someone said or did something funny, rather there being a big set up for the metaphorical punchline. I found a great deal of warmth in this movie, it’s very touching, intimate and clever; it seemed to be about decent people trying their best and I think with all the troubles around us these days, it’s valuable to be reminded of that.
The music is very unintrusive and choice of songs were a great fit; this song that plays over the end credits, perfectly encapsulates the sentiment of the movie.
I’ve read a few times since seeing this movie, that Albert is the closest character to how James Gandolfini was in real life. If that’s true, then he was a lovely guy. It’s a tragic loss that James died aged just 51 (before the release of this movie and having never seen the finished work).
As the credits rolled and after the cast of characters were displayed, came two simple words by way of a dedication that broke my heart, ‘For Jim’.
As a footnote, upon finishing this blog post, I was delighted to see that this movie is #20 on Rotten Tomatoes ‘The 200 Best Romantic Comedies Of All Time’:
|Cast||Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as Eva|
James Gandolfini, as Albert
Catherine Keener, as Marianne
Toni Collette, as Sarah
|Running Time||94 mins|