You can read virtually any James Gandolfini obituary from June for a remembrance of all the actorly qualities that made him so captivating on-screen: His brusque demeanor that masked a sadness his characters often struggled to acknowledge, quiet but charismatic, an unlikely mix of frightening and lovable with a gift for comedic timing. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener has blunted some of Gandolfini’s sharper edges in Enough Said—it’s a romantic comedy centered on well-to-do white people after all—but the characteristics that elevated Tony Soprano above the ranks of mere monsters are there. Gandolfini’s characters are usually very human. It’s a shame that his Albert, in this, one of his last efforts, is the only human worth spending time with in Enough Said.
I lament my distaste for this film not just because of Gandolfini’s presence but also because these movies—theoretically a mix of deeply felt, intellectual romance and pointed, barbed criticism—are so frequently appealing to me. But Enough Said‘s attempts at humor fall back way too easily on derivative stereotypes and lame shallowness. Holofcener has as her subjects a group of people who are alternately easy to mock or ripe for a smart examination of their busy, romantic lives. Instead she either lets most of her characters, aside from Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Eva, who dates Albert but backs off after befriending his ex-wife (Catherine Keener), off the hook, or has their dialogue (aside from Gandolfini, largely) devolve into trifling cattiness. Enough Said shares more in common with Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated) than with the best of Woody Allen. It is a movie tailor-made for the Slate and NPR crowd but totally oblivious to the fact that anybody who doesn’t belong to AARP (I’m right here!!!) might read Slate or listen to Fresh Air or, what’s worse, want to see this movie. To hear the way most of Holofcener’s characters talk, you’d think men and anyone under the age of thirty were the most selfish and incomprehensible people, which flies in the face of the fact that the only two compelling characters in Enough Said are a man (Gandolfini) and a teenage girl (Eva’s daughter Ellen, played by Tracey Fairaway). And her movie is drastically unfair to women, too—life for upper-middle-class moms is either a herculean struggle unfordable only by women or weighted down by the suffocating negativity of relationships. I don’t know how Gandolfini’s character wasn’t rolling his eyes all the time. I sure was.
Let me turn first to what bristled me most about Enough Said: ageism. Holofcener is rather preoccupied with the mysteries, horrors, and general confusion surrounding what KIDS THESE DAYS are up to. Her script is littered with questions, the subtext of which is paralyzing worry for our youth, and with moronic nostalgia. Are kids these days really having threesomes all the time??? Why won’t everybody still in school put down their phone and make actual connections with people??? This despite the fact that kids hooking up isn’t scary, but usually healthy (and rarely ever involves threesomes), and that people don’t talk to each other any less than they used to, but in fact talk more. Back in the good old days, nobody ever brought a paper on the train to work or anything, because they were too busy getting to know one another. I understand that Holofcener wants to show how love blossoms and is then sustained, or not, on the later end of the spectrum, but it’s not like this is a lesson that needs to be directed at middle-aged folks only, or at them in a way that simultaneously condescends to younger adults that will be experiencing these same problems in due time (and might very well be dealing with them in their own way now). My takeaway from Enough Said, though, wasn’t that any generation is setting a good example or learning from the other. Even though Ellen was a sweet and grounded young girl, she was the only prominent character not in a romantic relationship, as if the only lesson to be received is avoidance of such relationships altogether. I don’t think that’s a good or pragmatic solution, and it’s compounded by Holofcener’s longing for an era that didn’t exist.
Holofcener’s got men down, more or less. Men certainly can be inattentive and lazy; Eva is a massage therapist (which makes for a funny, if unintended, parallel to the Seinfeld storyline involving Jerry’s masseuse girlfriend) and one of her clients is a younger guy whose apartment door is at the top of a long flight of stairs and who never seems to realize that Eva might need some help lugging her massage table as she trudges upwards. It’s a humorous little detail, even if I think more men than Holofcener would admit would behave more chivalrously in such a situation. And men can be preoccupied with sex, too, even if no man exists whose every utterance pertains to carnal knowledge as Ben Falcone’s character does. But these two examples, if exaggerated, do serve something of a purpose. They’re pointed comedy and they’re counterpoints to Albert, the diamond in the rough: the guy who pays for meals, likes sex, and has fun. Gandolfini brings much of this air to the table himself, but Holofcener can definitely write for men.
But oddly, Holofcener might have some trouble writing for women. Taking Enough Said at face value, women are catty and have to choose between focusing on their careers or their relationship (or some form of dependence). You’d think it was nearly impossible for women to bridge the divide between these two facets of their lives, having to choose between conscription in the Sheryl Sandberg Army or the cult of domesticity. That’s bullshit, and it’s especially bullshit when held in relief to Albert, who seems to manage his affairs (that is his work-life balance, not his adultery) much more smoothly. Why can men have both but women can’t? The answer is that this is a false question, but Holofcener doesn’t really supply us with that answer, and it’s a shame because of how much I adore Louis-Dreyfus and Keener. Both excel at acerbic wit, but Louis-Dreyfus is given little to do in that regard, instead spending her time looking for sympathy from anybody who can give it to her, especially her daughter’s best friend, and Keener is a successful poet who bids her fans adieu with the word “Blessings” but ultimately an easy target for mockery from which Holofcener backs away.
And the relationship talk. God, it’s annoying as fuck to listen to them talk about relationships. This is largely because the dialogue largely reflects what it’s like to be in a relationship rather than the other person in the relationship. I don’t need to hear that relationships are hard work, I know that. I’d like to hear that relationships with this specific person are hard but ultimately exciting or rewarding or strenuous or doomed for x reason—otherwise I’m not invested in the relationship’s success or failure and possibly annoyed. About the only details any character is willing to share are Eva’s bemused surprise that Albert can’t whisper or that Albert is particular about how he eats his guacamole. This is a disappointment considering that the movie’s dramatic heft comes from Eva’s triangular relationships with Albert and with Marianne, Keener’s character. There’s not enough time spent with Eva and Albert to fully develop their chemistry, only a first date sequence (where the topic of being old dominates the conversation) and a nice brunch scene at Albert house, and these limitations time-wise only reinforce that the movie has precious little that’s positive to say about romance. And all Marianne really discloses, despite the abundance of opportunities, is Albert’s chip-dipping tic. It’s more “I don’t know how I stayed married to that man” than “these things he used to do I really liked” or “these things he used to do really pissed me off.” The tone is whiny, not informative or incisive, and as I said earlier, if the lesson to be gleaned is to not be in a relationship, I’d bristle at that, too.
I wanted to like this movie, I really did. There’s a reason you get excited when you see the names Gandolfini, Louis-Dreyfus, and Keener during the credits: These are talented performers with a wide range, and Holofcener drew on them for that purpose but ultimately failed to deliver on their potential by shortchanging the female characters especially in the script. It’s surprising, too, considering that Holofcener has directed four episodes of one of the best and funniest shows on television: Parks and Recreation, which happens to be a comedy that manages to balance biting satire with sweetness and with strong, compelling female leads. Enough Said could have walked this balancing act, too, but I left wanting to watch Veep instead and hoping that whatever Gandolfini projects are in post-production provide a more worthy showcase.
Correction: I initially wrote that Gandolfini’s character was named Arthur, not Albert. My bad.