Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the master of awkward conversations. In nine seasons on “Seinfeld” and beyond, she demonstrated a level of nuance, charm and etiquette in even the most ham-handed, despicable and uncomfortable of moments. She’s done so with a signature guffaw and a smile that looks amicable to her addressee and forced and in agony to everyone else.
“Enough Said” is Louis-Dreyfus’s first real film role in quite some time, and it’s a shame she doesn’t do indie films like Nicole Holofcener’s more often, because she takes everything that has made her an iconic actress and built the most pathos filled role of her career. Given the casual complexity of the screenplay, it’s likely this is a romantic comedy that wouldn’t be possible without her.
Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a divorced masseuse about to send her daughter off to college. At a party she meets both Marianne (Catherine Keener), a potential client, and Albert (the late James Gandolfini), a potential boyfriend after the two find they have a little in common.
The rub is that Albert and Marianne were once married, and now each confides in Eva how much they hate the other as she grows to be their true friends.
The first virtue of Holofcener’s screenplay is that it allows this fact to pass by unexplained to the audience and to Eva for quite some time, and we’re allowed to see Eva and Albert develop as a couple with real chemistry before the coincidence drives them apart.
They bond over their inadequacies, sardonic observations about their age, lapses in hearing, poor eating habits and how much they like each others’ hands (Eva, despite being a masseuse, does not have “man-hands”), all of which seem inconsequential given Louis-Dreyfus’s delivery, but under Holofcener’s eye has some poignancy.
But what’s more surprising is that the gimmick of the screenplay is more of a dramatic tool than a comedic one. Although “Enough Said” falters slightly as it begins to casually swipe at some of Albert’s quirks, Holofcener gets more laughs at Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini’s banter than their circumstance.
Louis-Dreyfus owns not one but two pivotal dinner table scenes, lampooning Gandolfini’s inability to whisper in one scene while jabbing at her ex-husband for ordering more bread in another. She never loses her charm, and you can see her effort to be courteous, but she has an expert way of deflating the pleasantness from the room.
Under Jerry Seinfeld’s hands, Louis-Dreyfus’s tone makes for a funny story of second-guessing and regret afterwards. Holofcener puts Elaine Benes into the real world, forcing her to deal with the consequences of knowing what she knows and choosing not to act on it in a desire to be nice, safe and funny.
That’s really what Holofcener’s no-love triangle is about, a woman fighting pre-conceived notions and impulses that aim to get in the way of her happiness. Holofcener’s themes come together beautifully with the parallels of her own ex marriage and her peculiar kinship with her daughter’s best friend. In both cases, she gets burned.
Holofcener touches on a very nuanced feeling for women regarding the challenges of decision making as a mother and a woman looking for love. As relatable a feeling it is, perhaps only Louis-Dreyfus could’ve conveyed it at all.
3 ½ stars