Sunday, September 29, 2013

Talk it Out: ENOUGH SAID

If simply stated, the story of Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said could sound like a movie that would lend itself to flailing misunderstandings in service of an Idiot Plot. In it, a middle-aged woman finds herself with a new friend and a new boyfriend and then proceeds to get herself in a situation in which she can’t tell one that she knows the other and vice versa. Now she must juggle the two new relationships without letting the one spoil the other. It’s a quandary that could easily be played with broad implausibility, but instead becomes both understandable and funny through the precision of the writing and performances. Holofcener’s script is smartly written, perceptive in the way it teases out characters’ worries and preoccupations without going too big or too small. It’s a film that’s just right.

As a writer-director, Holofcener has an easy, comfortably verbal way of exploring emotional terrains that feel relatively normal. Potential for high drama remains subdued and situations seemingly primed for broad comedy never quite ignites with silliness. Most of her characters here and in films like her debut Walking and Talking (1996) and her wonderful Please Give (2010) would rather not experience feelings that’d knock them too far beyond even keel. They just want to be happy, feel good about their positions in life, and have good relationships with friends and family. These films present this struggle to either stay there or get there in ways that feel natural. In Enough Said, Holofcener positions her main character, a divorced middle-aged masseuse played winningly by the great Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in the middle of changes to her life. Taking a night off from dealing with an emotionally distant 18-year-old daughter (Tracey Fairaway) who is going away to college soon, she goes to a party where she meets both a nice guy (the late James Gandolfini) who will become her boyfriend and a new client (Catherine Keener) who will become her friend. She’s happy, at first.

The film develops into a light, modest movie about adults having adult problems that arrive more or less believably and are resolved in patient and relatively mature ways. That’s a treat. Holofcener pushes situations forward with bright, sunny cinematography and dialogue that crackles with unhurried natural wit that never feels overwritten. The film is breezy and delicate in the ways it allows the actors to let situations develop and punchlines land harder for not seeming to be punchlines in the first place. There’s fine observation in the comedy that’s airy without seeming superfluous. Louis-Dreyfuss has such ease on camera playing a woman who is relatively confident, but finds her relationships taking on complications she didn’t expect. Her scenes with Gandolfini are the highlight of the picture. His performance is terrific, tender and warm with understated heft. They have an extraordinarily unforced chemistry that’s prickly and flirtatious without seeming overtly giddy or extreme. They’re simply two divorced middle-aged professionals slowly growing fond of each other date after date. It feels so very grown up, and all the more romantic for not trying to be romantic.

Not quite a romantic comedy, the focus is instead on Louis-Dreyfuss as she navigates her many relationships. As her new friend, Keener projects a kindness and a neediness beneath her earthy poet persona that makes it easy to see why she wouldn’t be a friend one would feel eager to lose. It’s important for the balance of the plot that we not care more about a romance with Gandolfini than a friendship with Keener, and it’s to the actors’ and Holofcener’s credit that these characters each feel important in their own ways. Elsewhere, Louis-Dreyfuss has great scenes with old friends (a bristly married couple played by Toni Collette and Ben Falcone) and her daughter’s best friend (Tavi Gevinson). That relationship is especially fascinating, as this teen pulls closer to her friend’s mom even as the daughter pulls away. As an ensemble, the cast feels cohesive, never distracting from the major performance at the center, but adding nicely sketched minor notes of richness. It is with this richness that Holofcener creates a smart comedy that is light, satisfying and so intelligently performed and skillfully written that it doesn’t feel as light as it is.

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