Watching James Gandolfini in Enough Said reminds you a little bit of Bela Lugosi’s single surviving scene in ”Plan Nine From Outer Space”. When schlock writer-director Ed Wood befriended the aging star in the 1950s Lugosi’s celebrity had long faded, and though the scene is treasured by film geeks, it was an ignoble end to a man who deserved more for the contribution he’d made to the movies.
Gandolfini, who died suddenly in Italy just a few months before ”Enough Said”’s release, did something similar at the other end of the scale. The part of fifty-something divorcee Albert might be the best role he ever played, a fitting swansong to a career full of standout roles.
Thoroughly modern creations, Albert and Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) aren’t the kind of eternal teenagers movies portray thirty year olds as. Unarguably grown up and both of them divorced parents to college-age daughters, both Albert and Eva keenly feel the unfairness of relationships being so nerve-wracking and paranoid when they’ve been married, raised kids and made lives for themselves.
But seeing their relationship blossom is often as painful as it is beautiful. Every nervous smile and glance is so weighted with the despair at having to fall in love like inarticulate teenagers at their age. The most perfectly pitched line in the film is where Albert, talking about a broken heart, smiles wryly with a shake of his head and says ‘I’m too old for that shit’.
He’s right – what he and Eva are going through is the kind of stuff they expect to be far behind at their stage of life, and they know they wear the indignity and fear of falling in love with so much to lose like ridiculous outfits that are way too young for them. Louis-Dreyfuss plays the high-strung LA type we’ve seen before a little too much at times, but the pairing of the two is nearly perfect.
Of course, the performances and central relationship are only half the story. There is a story, and when it’s over you realise the premise feels like it’s come from a cheesy 90s rom-com starring Shelley Long and Judge Reinhold.
Massage therapist Eva has a new client in Marianne (Catherine Keener), a preternaturally becalmed poet nothing like Eva’s emotional twitchiness. As Eva feels more drawn to Albert – the kind of man she’d never look at twice – she hears the horror stories of Marianne’s marriage and soon realises Albert is the very ex she’s been hearing about.
Eva keeps it from Albert, of course, and hijinks ensue as she unconsciously watches out for the bad habits she’s heard about, even baiting him into them in a kind of paranoid self-justification.
But none of it’s played for broad laughs with a Boyz II Men soundtrack. ”Enough Said”’s greatest strengths is never to descend to depicting either character as bumbling fools (although Eva comes off worse for her childish suspicion). They’re never any less than real people in a real world, and where a lesser take on the premise might end up with somebody falling into a swimming pool or having a safe fall on their car, it’s hard not to feel genuine sadness as the inevitable confrontation comes and everybody realises what Eva’s done (especially when Albert closes ranks to protect his bruised masculinity).
Enough Said takes its time sketching the supporting characters as well, and script and performances combine to make sure there are no empty caricatures. Other issues swirl around Albert and Eva’s relationship with appreciation and knowing – from empty nest syndrome to speaking up for what you want – but when Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfuss share the screen, it lights up.