Thursday 24 October 2013

Baggage claimed: "Enough Said"

What strikes you first about Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said is how purposefully gentle it is. For a romantic comedy, there's no straining for comic effect: like a session on the fold-up massage table carried around by its heroine, this is a subtly probing affair, determined to make you relax into its company - and good company it proves, too. In some ways, Holofcener is simply obliging us to adapt to the pace of the characters populating this second-chance romance: two folks who've been around the block a little, and are now content to take matters as they come, at their own speed. To watch the film is to see how life goes.

With the minimum of fuss, we're introduced to Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a masseuse, and Albert (James Gandolfini), a television archivist - both in that forty-fifty age bracket, both with a teenage daughter by an earlier marriage. Though they're at ease with themselves, and with one another, the pair have baggage, history - literalised by that massage table, and his profession - which they sometimes feel compelled to tuck away or tidy up: kids that still need attention, gnarly feet, missing teeth, middle-age spread, relationships that didn't work out. One of Eva's clients, the waspy poet Marianne (Catherine Keener), turns out to be Albert's ex, and her on-table griping about her ex comes to warp Eva's perception of her new beau, if indeed Albert can be described as either new or a beau.

It takes a special chemistry to get past these things, of course, and Enough Said will likely go down as one of 2013's few movies to actually benefit from the increasing pre-eminence of television, in this respect. The film permits Louis-Dreyfus a wider showcase for the timing highlighted on Seinfeld and further sharpened by the recent Veep; it also allows Gandolfini to play against established type as a big softie, while demonstrating all the dramatic subtlety fostered over the course of several seasons of The Sopranos. Holofcener, too, has kept herself busy between projects with TV gigs: as with her episodes of the pretty wonderful Enlightened, Enough Said is good at honing in on the minutiae of everyday lives, and the need for connection to lift us out of the crappy ruts we sometimes get stuck in.

I think it's fair to say that Holofcener's strengths lie as a writer and director of actors. Her mise-en-scène isn't notably more widescreen than her TV work; though the interior design is better these days, she's still making the kind of chattily unfussed indie she made with 1996's Walking & Talking. Still, who needs Kubrick when a filmmaker's virtues are so plainly human? Holofcener has always had a cherishable ear for the ways in which men and women think and talk: there may be no greater illustration of the difference between the sexes currently available than the scene in which Eva complains to her best friend Sarah (Toni Collette) about the male client who blithely watches her struggling to cart her table up his front steps, causing Sarah's husband to ask "Did you ask him to help?"

Yet this director has also kept an eye on the longer game, recognising how with age comes balance, tolerance, a reluctance to judge. Her lovers, experienced enough to know the challenges of living a life, are notably more patient and forgiving than their bitchy, snobby offspring; Eva and Albert's mid-film separation will be all the more affecting for seeing two characters we've come to know and care about trying desperately to act like responsible adults, rather than gnashing their teeth and tossing the crockery at one another. Forever taking its cue from its characters, Enough Said remains a gentle massage for the head, heart and tearducts rather than anything more vigorous; yet, whether by Louis-Dreyfus's shows of the nervy, deflective humour common to some women, or by the sight of Gandolfini in his penultimate role, wrapping up all his scenes in an affectionate bearhug, you are touched.

Enough Said is in selected cinemas.

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