Saturday, November 23, 2013

Like: Enough Said

A few years back, I was pleasantly surprised by writer/director Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, a comedy centered around the ties of New York women plagued by the desire to be decent. It was an exacting blend of humor and drama, just enough pain to keep it real, just enough laughs to warrant repeat viewings.  This is what Holofcener does best, and she tends to write her characters (male and female) as interesting, frustrating people, not constructs. Holofcener's style has frequently been aligned with the Woody Allen school of neurotic characters, though her characters tend to be smart, awkward, Los Angeles ladies and not repeated NYC proxies. Enough Said is sunny and broadly comedic, in part because its lead is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, an actress whose sourest state still tends to register as funny. Louis-Dreyfus  stars as Eva, a divorcee mom and traveling masseuse struggling with the idea of sending her good-kid daughter off to college.  When Eva meets Albert (James Gandolfini) at a party, they hit it off.  At the very same party, Eva also meets Marianne (Catherine Keener) an elegant poetess who she quickly develops a friend-crush on. Problem is, of course, Marianne is Albert's ex-wife.  In true screwball fashion, of course, Albert and Marianne don't realize they both intimately know Eva, and much of the tension comes from this juggling of sleuthing, with supporting characters tacked on for additional complication.
While effectively warm, there's something about Enough Said that feels "less than" Holofcener's capabilities. Though sophisticated and smart in a way that makes it a welcome breather from so many theatrical comedies, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching something made for TV -- specifically a compressed season of some premium cable tentpole.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course.  Your HBOs and Showtimes have long been stripped of any stigma, and perhaps it's because Gandolfini, Louis-Dreyfus, and co-star Toni Collette have all been so successful in the cable-mode, but I couldn't quite escape the feeling that Enough Said was more really good sitcom than cinema.  When it ended, I was struck most powerfully by a sense of loss for James Gandolfini, who passed away last June, and not by a lingering appreciation of the film as a film. Since, I've been trying to figure out why it was, essentially, unsatisfying despite so many strong gestures and bittersweet notes.  
What it comes down to may be an unevenness between the odd structural balance of Eva's character arc and the unfinished quality of so many distracting, charming side characters.  Eva is the focus here, naturally, and when we're entrenched in her perspective, the film is one particular thing: a Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy rooted in her timing.  Beyond that, though, there's a cyclical nature to her life that creates expected repetitions and resolutions.  We're made to see these repetitions in the lives of the supporting characters as well. Each individual is given ways of doing things, peculiar tics or issues that impact Eva's life at varied levels.  Her friend Sarah (Collette), for example, keeps rearranging furniture and battling with her housekeeper.  Eva's daughter's friend Chloe (blogger Tavi Gevinson) doesn't like her own mother, so she shows up at odd times looking to foster a relationship with Eva.  They're good subplots, of course, and layer up a slightly more realistic life rife with the complications of what I guess is a 'dating in your 50s' storyline.  These little things are numerous, though, and forced under the weight of the concealed identity plot at play in the Eva-Albert-Marianne triangle.  Eva's story wraps up, but too many characters are left as hanging threads, or with forced conclusions.  When the film ended, I felt like I was just waiting to tune in next week.

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