Although Enough Said is nominally the story of a single-mom masseuse in LA trying to have a relationship, and it sometimes fails to make the most of the farcical elements it's set up, what makes it work is the exceptional performance of James Gandolfini as the male lead, in his penultimate film role.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, whose daughter is about to go 'back East' to college, and whose career as a masseuse is an almost endless parade of clients who have bad breath, natter on inanely about their problems, or who seem oblivious to Eva's own problems, like having to lug her massage table up a flight of steep stairs. At a party she meets Albert (Gandolfini—whose character appears to have been given that name solely so Eva can later make a 'Fat Albert' joke) and they get a small sense of attraction when admitting neither finds anyone at the party attractive. Of course, romance blossoms, but Eva is besieged by doubts, mostly because Albert is overweight, messy, and doesn't seem to worry about that. His own daughter, also headed east to college, is obnoxious. But what makes it worse is Eva's newest client, another product of the fateful party, Marianne (Catharine Keener): a poet whose tastes Eva admires and who is constantly disparaging about her overweight ex-husband.
Who of course turns out to be Albert.
This sort of dissection of the mores of LA, the needy daughter whose mother wants to dress like a teen, and whose need pushes Eva's own daughter into the background, to a goodbye dinner for Eva's daughter with her ex and his new wife, and especially in Catharine Keener and her relentless attack on Albert coupled with a sort f lonely name-dropping of her own, is built around self-centeredness, and around perception being mistaken for reality.
The only exception to that, of course, the only character who actually seems comfortable in himself, is Gandolfini, who may have walked into LA from New Jersey just as surely as if this were an episode of the Sopranos. In fact, what made Tony Soprano work was in large part Gandolfini's innate humour and likeability, something hinged to the vulnerability of the less attractive fat man. In that sense, Albert is Tony Soprano without the threat of violence, without the simmering rage underneath. He understands who he is, and if not always happy with his loneliness, can live with that. It has always puzzled me why this wasn't spotted in Gandolfini, after playing Bear in Get Shorty, which was 1995 after all. Instead, when he started getting film roles they were in the George Dzunda class, ignoring his comic potential.
This is important because for most of the film he plays straight man for Louis-Dreyfus, who is far more a television, small-screen, actor than he is. She spends much of the film acting with her teeth, and as if aware of the limitation, Holofcener shoots much of it in extreme close-up, as if we were watching a TV screen. Louis-Dreyfus is good when she has to be controlled, mostly at the moment of breakdown, but it's Gandolfini who reveals big emotions through small gestures, who manages to project the inward, which is the big screen way. His ability helps Louis-Dreyfus find a bit of the screwball touch, and stops her from spinning madly out of control with toothy smiles, which may indicate Eva's uncertainties, and do whenever Gandolfini is on screen with them.
The real moments the film works are not in ensemble moaning, but when it is dealing with the personal, the way love grows, then dissipates, how , which is external, can evaporate if you don't find the kindness which is internal. I so wanted this movie to have an unhappy ending, and there are moments when it could have—and that would have given it independent street cred out the wazoo. But Gandolfini had made us feel Albert deserves better, and Jwe know, in the end, he will be himself. This film is dedicated to him, and well it should be, because it turns a lightweight comedy into something memorable.
Enough Said plays at the London Film Festival 12,13, 14 October, before release from Fox Searchlight.