Two Quiet Lives
A near-perfect tale set in less-than-glamorous Los Angeles.
Oct 7, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 05 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
I went to Enough Said, the new movie starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, certain I would not write about it. Its producer, Anthony Bregman, is a friend of mine—so if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings by saying so, and if I reviewed it favorably, I would feel that I might have acted unprofessionally.
James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
fox searchlight pictures
But then something happened: I actually saw Enough Said. And since a few people, at least, read these words in hopes of finding something worthwhile to take in at the cinema, I decided to risk untowardness to provide you with a little bit of helpful consumer service—which is, after all, the defining purpose of writing a review.
Enough Said is wonderful, and if you don’t go see it, you’re crazy.
It comes as close to achieving the sigh-inducing response of deep satisfaction evoked by a really good short story as any movie I’ve ever seen. It is small in scope, but within its frame it is almost perfectly realized. This is a movie about two newly middle-aged people who live remarkably ordinary lives in remarkably ordinary middle-class Los Angeles. Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) makes a living as a masseuse; Albert (Gandolfini) is an archivist at a museum devoted to television. Both are divorced. Each has a teenage daughter about to leave the nest. They meet at a party and begin dating.
The writer-director, Nicole Holof-cener, shows these two characters peeling away their defensive layers as they grow more and more comfortable with each other, just as they would in real life. In a series of superbly written scenes—this is the best-written American movie in memory—we begin to see their winsome, winning qualities just as they begin to see each other’s. They are not all that special, but they are lively, quick, and amusing, and they find each other lively, quick, and amusing.
Seeing Enough Said makes Gandolfini’s death at the age of 51 all the more tragic. He plays to perfection a quiet, relaxed, self-contained man at ease with himself—precisely the qualities Tony Soprano did not have. But this is not a movie about Albert, nor is it about Albert’s budding relationship with Eva. Enough Said is about the charming and pretty and nice Eva, who turns out to be a jagged, complex, and somewhat self-destructive person. Louis-Dreyfus, as expert a comedienne as anyone alive, drops all her shtick and burrows into this splendidly complex character in a revelatory performance.
As her daughter, Ellen, prepares to go East to Sarah Lawrence, Eva snuggles up close to Ellen’s emotionally needy friend Chloe, who has a difficult relationship with her own mother and wants to supplant her friend. By doing this, Eva threatens to alienate the affections of her own beloved child. This may be a habit of hers; at a dinner to celebrate her daughter’s going-away with her ex-husband and his new wife, there is a clear suggestion that Eva’s unrealistic expectations helped torpedo her marriage.
Enough Said has a plot that would make the most sense in a bad episode of a clichéd TV situation comedy. One of Eva’s clients is Marianne (Catherine Keener), a successful new-agey poet whom Eva admires for her pristine home and self-possession. Eva figures out that Marianne is Albert’s ex-wife, but doesn’t tell either the ex or Albert that she knows, because she can’t help but use Marianne to gain information about her new boyfriend.
That insider information is unkind. “She’s like a human TripAdvisor,” Eva says of Marianne. And like all customers of the website that features nasty reviews of hotel rooms, Eva can’t help but be influenced by Marianne’s highly critical and belittling complaints about Albert. Eva stumbles into misbehavior, and then can’t figure a way out of it. It is part of Holofcener’s achievement as writer and director that this seems plausible and never descends into sitcom farce.
Holofcener has created a lived-in world here, though perhaps not lived-in enough; a real-life Eva and Albert would have family members other than their daughters, more obligations, richer and more complicated existences than we see here. That’s what makes this more akin to a short story than a novel; Enough Said sets up a single, limited situation, and brings it to a crisis point. But within its limits, it’s funnier than you expect, and more painful than you expect, and more affecting than you expect.
Also, not that this will mean anything to you, but my friend Anthony has a cameo. He has one line: “Hey.”
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.
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