Director Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said is a welcome reminder that tried and true does not have to mean stale and formulaic. "Romantic comedy" became a term of derision over the last two decades not because there's inherently something wrong with the sub-genre, but because its tropes have been applied so lazily and cynically lately.
With the help of stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, Holofcener's film (along with, it must be said, Silver Linings Playbook) begins to undo some of the damage done by Katherine Heigl and other nefarious forces in recent years.
Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini, as romantic leads, portray Eva and Albert. Both are divorced. Both have nearly grown daughters who are about to head off to college. With scars from their unhappy first marriages, both seem interested in the kind of practical loving relationship that suits their life experience. And so, somewhat to the surprise of Louis-Dreyfus' Eva, who can't help stumbling on Albert's rotund figure at first, their mutual bond blossoms in to a quiet, dignified romance.
The twist here is that Eva's new client, played by Catherine Keener, just so happens to be Albert's ex-wife. She's quite unaware of that fact at first, serving as a sounding board for Marianne's complaints about her ex during their regular massage sessions at Marianne's home. Eva's empathy makes perfect sense because, as a divorcee herself, she can so easily relate.
She is of course mortified when she discovers that Albert is the same man Marianne accuses of being a slob and a bad lover. But, critically, she doesn't reveal her relationship to either party once she figures out the link between the three of them, going against her better judgment because, as she puts it, Marianne is "like a human TripAdvisor."
It's not the crime, it's the cover-up, so when she is inevitably discovered, it opens a rift between her and Albert. I try not to reveal spoilers, but since I've already called this a tried-and-true rom com, well, you can probably read between the lines and discern how things end up for this pair. Put another way, it leads to a resolution that ought to be pleasing, particularly given the sterling understated performances from Louis-Drefyus and Gandolfini.
Thankfully, Holofcener did not cast her characters in the mold of Heigl or put them in a paint-by-numbers story. They are different from your usual rom-com leads, but in subtle ways. They are older and more wise and more world-weary as a result. This allows Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini to inject a fragility and nuance in to the film that is all warm and fuzzy. The conflict does not stem from a gulf between their personalities. They are different, yes, but not at opposite ends of a spectrum. It does stem from a lie, but it's neither a bold and grand one (the kind that in poorer rom-coms makes you wonder if you're rooting for a terrible person) nor one told with much intention. Eva falls in to it much the way she falls in to love with Albert, mostly by accident.
She also manages to fall in love in spite of her pessimistic view of people, a view colored heavily by her own failed marriage. The series of scenes in which she lugs her heavy massage table up a flight of stairs as another of her clients looks drives home the simple message on offer. Eva assumes her client won't help because he is selfish when the reality is he's just absent-minded and unaware. If you look for the worst in people, you'll often find it. If you never ask for help, you can't begin to trust anyone who might actually be able to deliver it.
Simply by avoiding the mindless union of its two leads and casting well in those roles, Enough Said stands out. Casting is really where this should end. Both Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini have such surprising range. You expect one thing out of each of them, but they are capable of so much more. It's a shame that this is one of the last times Gandolfini, who died just prior to the film's release, will be able to remind us of that. But it's a blessing that one of those final reminders was in such a tender role.