On the 19th of June, James Gandolfini died of a heart attack in Rome. An actor hugely admired by his peers, his unexpected death gave rise to the usual heartfelt homages and disingenuous testimonials by those close to him and those in the media who felt the need to stay in step with the prevailing temper. It's all moot of course, because the only testimonial should affect the public discourse is in the man's work. As such, 'Enough Said' represents one of the most articulate tributes to Gandolfini's talent.
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, 'Enough Said' is a warm and funny romance about the fragility of relationships. Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Eva is a divorced masseuse struggling to find a man she connects with and trying to cope with her daughter's imminent departure for university. At a party she meets James Gandolfini's Albert, a television archivist and similarly divorced parent of a departing daughter. At the same party she meets the bohemian poet Marianne, played by long-standing Holofcener collaborator Catherine Keener, and they bond over their (that's right) divorces. Albert becomes Eva's tentative but increasingly affectionate boyfriend, while Marianne becomes her firm friend.
The meat of the film is served with Eva's realisation that Albert is actually the ex-husband that Marianne has been publicly disparaging all this time. Having been given a syllabus in Albert's faults, she now finds it difficult not to see him through Marianne's eyes. Leveraging their friendship to peel back the vinyl on her new boyfriend is a temptation she can't resist, but it begins to deforms her perception of him.
While billed as a romantic-comedy, it's not the regular, broad humour of major studio rom-coms. Most American comedies (here comes the narratology bit!) are written as if they were going to be performed in front of a studio audience, with characters subtextually directing and timing their jokes to amuse an audience that, within the world of the plot, aren't even there. 'Enough Said' is more sophisticated than that. Characters crack jokes to make each other laugh, or laughs come from the recognition of ourselves in the awkward moments when two people don't know how to navigate their social context. It's a naturalistic and well observed comedy that succeeds in feeling more like life than theatre.
The romantic side of the film is equally interesting, as it inverts the rom-com trope of two friends that fall in love with the same person. Here Eva is stuck between two ex-lovers, whose mutual vitriol pollutes her relationship with both. Crucially, Louis-Dreyfus manages to breathe humanity into Eva, preventing her from becoming a cold, manipulative monster. She's motivated more by fear than voyeurism - fear, driven by the spectre of Marianne's marriage, of what her relationship with Albert could turn into, fear admitting to her duplicity, and fear of life without her daughter.
For Gandolfini's part, he's effortless in his depiction of an understated and charming man persecuted by doubt and self-consciousness. A confessed slob, he's haunted by the memory of his ex-wife's harsh fastidiousness. Famous for his portrayal of the brash Tony Soprano, Gandolfini's ability to display naked vulnerability may come as a surprise to some viewers.
'Enough Said' is the realisation of Holofcener's promise after a string of well-received but not well-noticed character studies. The characters are all real and flawed, and have pasts that aren't just 'backstories' to decorate them with emotional credibility. Walking the line between compassionate relationship-tragedy and sincere humour, 'Enough Said' is an emotionally rich film and a poignant reminder of cinema's loss in James Gandolfini.
'Enough Said' premiered in the UK at the BFI London Film Festival. The film is out in wide release across UK cinemas from tomorrow.