The first date that James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus embark on in “Enough Said” – they’re divorced parents, each with a college-bound daughter, who meet at a party and go out for dinner – has to be one of the greatest getting-to-know-you encounters in movie history.
Funny, revealing, full of awkward chatter that gives way to a mutual recognition, a look in their eyes that says “Wait a minute, I think I really like this person” – it’s a brilliantly scripted sequence, from car to restaurant to frozen-yogurt shop to car, that makes us root for the couple and their possible future. He’s Albert, a self-acknowledged slob (“not like a dirty, hoarder slob – like a normal, disorganized one”). She’s Eva, a masseuse. They live in Los Angeles. They have stuff in common and stuff that’s not.
Nicole Holofcener, who has been making smart, engaging grown-up movies for a couple of decades now (“Please Give,” “Friends With Money,” “Walking and Talking”), writes dialogue that just sounds right. It can be quick and clever, uncomfortable and imprecise, embarrassing, charming – words spilling from the characters, rooting them in real life. And Holofcener rarely gets show-offy about it.
This is no small gift, and as a director she allows her actors room to let the sentences roll around, to find their natural rhythms, bat the banter back and forth like tennis pros at the top of their game. Louis-Dreyfus brings just a bit of that squinty wackiness from her “Seinfeld” days to the proceedings, but her work here is more measured, more complex. Her Eva is a little bit lost and sad.
And speaking of sad, it is heartbreaking to watch Gandolfini, in his final lead role, as he embodies this warm, good-humored man with such depth and dimension. The actor’s death certainly came too soon, but at least he left us this gem of a performance to remember him by.
In “Enough Said,” Eva perhaps talks too much. And she definitely lets one of her massage clients, a poet named Marianne (the always engaging, just a little off-kilter Catherine Keener), talk more than she should. The ruinous blunder at the center of Holofcener’s movie is the way in which Eva, desperate for inside knowledge of the man she has taken a liking to, befriends someone who knows Albert intimately – his ex. She does this without letting on that she’s started a relationship with the guy. It’s as if Eva has reverted to some junior high school mode of behavior. Her daughter, Ellen (a terrific Tracey Fairaway), would never do anything so immature.
Observing from the sidelines and offering advice, caution and comic asides about marriage and domestic help are Toni Collette as Eva’s best friend, Sarah, and Ben Falcone as Will, her spouse. Eve Hewson gets in some sharp digs playing Albert’s snooty but perceptive daughter, and Tavi Gevinson is the needy friend of Eva’s daughter – so needy that Eva takes her on as if she were her own. Quite understandably, this annoys her real daughter, Ellen, to the point of hurtfulness.
And so “Enough Said” is a romantic comedy about hurting the people you love, who you want to love – and making mistakes that may be impossible to recover from. That’s serious business, and that’s why this small movie is so hugely satisfying. It’s not just about the jokes.