Film review: James Gandolfini bows out on a sweet high in Enough Said

3.00

Nicole Holofcener, 93mins. Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini (12A)

The writer-director Nicole Holofcener is one of US indie cinema's most idiosyncratic miniaturists. Her films, which she makes at the rate of one every three or four years, are small scale, delicately observed comedy-dramas that look at relationships in a very barbed way. Enough Said, her fifth feature since her debut in 1996 with Walking and Talking, is typical of her work both in its slow-burning humour and in its forensic probing into its middle-aged protagonists' many insecurities. This is sly, witty fare, even if the behaviour of its self-absorbed characters begins to grate.

The film features James Gandolfini's final leading role before his untimely death earlier this summer. He gives a very likable and understated performance as Albert, a divorcee despised by his former wife for his slobbishness and ineptitude in bed. Above all, his ex couldn't stand the way he ate guacamole, always pushing the bits of onion to the side so that he could savour the avocado. (These are the kind of throwaway details other film-makers ignore but that Holofcener always hones in on.)

Albert is first spotted at a poolside party in LA. Divorced single mom Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is reluctantly attending this event and freely admits that she doesn't find any of the men there attractive. Albert, though, piques her curiosity. Eva is a masseuse. We see montages of her attending to her various clients, kneading their doughy skin. Some are old men with foul breath. Some are gossiping LA housewives. She has to lug her massage table all over town. Her male friends inevitably joke about her line of work. "Do all the guys get boners?" one inevitably asks.

Louis-Dreyfus is a very accomplished comedian who spent many years on Seinfeld. She plays Eva with a smile almost permanently affixed on her face. This smile stays there when she is happy, depressed or even when she embarrasses herself. So does the energy and repartee. It's an engaging comic turn, albeit one arguably better suited for a sitcom than a feature-length drama.

Eva begins a relationship with Gandolfini's Albert, won over by his self-deprecating humour and a cynicism which chimes with her own. At the same time, she has just found herself a new client and friend, Marianne (Catherine Keener), a fellow divorcee who regales her with stories about the awfulness of her former husband. Only very slowly does Eva realise the man being described is none other than... her very own Albert.

Enough Said is shot in conventional fashion in LA locations familiar from dozens of sitcoms and dramas. The surface blandness is belied by the caustic nature of Holofcener's screenplay. In her films, she deals with everything from her characters' hang-ups about class and race to their physical shortcomings. Here, we learn about Gandolfini's ear hair and his foghorn of a voice whenever he tries to whisper. He's a glutton who binges on heavily buttered popcorn. For all her cheeriness, Eva herself is deceitful and manipulative. Keener (who has appeared in all of Holofcener's movies) has an off-putting hauteur as Marianne, the successful writer.

The minor characters are also frequently obnoxious. Eva's best friend, the therapist Sarah (Toni Collette), is in a running battle with her maid, whom she is desperate to sack. Sarah's husband, Will (Ben Falcone), cracks sexist jokes. The teenage children, about to go to college, are needy and conceited. They bring out anxiety in their parents, who can't come to terms with the fact that they're about to leave home.

In their behaviour and attitudes, Holofcener's protagonists are akin to those in her fellow director Todd Solondz's misanthropic chronicles of American family life. The difference is that Holofcener has an affection for her characters that never entirely dissipates. Here, the scenes between Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini have real warmth.

In one very funny scene, Holofcener shows the couple scrutinising their feet. In another, Albert invites Eva to his home. He is dressed informally in T-shirt and pyjamas and doesn't realise that, as she quickly tells him, "I can see your penis." This echoes the famous moment in Holofcener's earlier film Lovely and Amazing in which Dermot Mulroney's character looks over Emily Mortimer's naked body and appraises it as if he is looking over livestock. "You're definitely on the skinny side..."

The writer-director has long acknowledged that her films draw closely on her own experiences and those of her friends. If this is the case, she has no compunction about exposing their (and her own) affectations and delusions.

Her screenplay for Enough Said makes the point that when a relationship breaks down, former lovers and spouses will give radically different explanations as to what went wrong. Eva's original, optimistic view of Albert is almost fatally undermined by the venomous accounts his former wife gives of his shortcomings ("Terrible in bed, clumsy, no sense of humour."). Gandolfini plays Albert as a man painfully aware of his own bad habits. After being harangued for so long about everything from his diet to the way he leaves clutter in his bedroom, he can hardly be blamed if he has an inferiority complex. At the same time, he is equally perceptive about the motives of those who denigrate him.

In the two decades since her debut, Holofcener's film-making style has hardly changed. The main difference now is that her characters are no longer young lovers but are middle-aged parents with broken relationships, cellulite and kids about to leave home. The director delights in showing us their neuroses and the frequently contradictory way in which they behave. She is a subversive storyteller whose quirky little fables always have a sting in them. Enough Said is one of her slighter efforts. Helping anchor affairs, though, is the bear-like Gandolfini, who brings charm and gravitas to a movie that might otherwise have seemed very superficial.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone