Romance movies are supposed to leave viewers feeling that, like the characters on screen, we have just fallen in love.
This is easier when your characters are young, beautiful, and oozing sex appeal.
Writer/director Nicole Holofcener takes a more difficult — but in many ways more rewarding — approach in “Enough Said,” a middle-aged romantic comedy that is unrelentingly wise, witty and, well, wonderful.
We should expect as much. Holofcener (“Walking & Talking,” “Lovely & Amazing,” “Friends with Money,” “Please Give”) specializes in modestly-budgeted, superbly-acted seriocomedies usually set in the world of Los Angeles thirty- and fortysomethings.
Many if not most of her characters are on their second marriages or between relationships. They are basically decent, intermittently foolish individuals. You end up wishing they were your friends.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is Eva, a divorced single mom and professional masseuse. In several brief, sharply limned scenes, we follow Eva through a day’s work, lugging her massage table (which gets heavier with every passing year) in and out of the homes of people rich enough to pay for her services.
In addition to providing a massage, Eva finds herself in the role of reluctant psychotherapist — why won’t these people just shut up, relax, and let Eva’s hands do what they do best?
In the company of her best friend, the psychiatrist Sarah (Toni Collette, playing the shrink as engagingly neurotic), Eva attends a swanky party where she meets two people who will become important to her.
First there’s Marianne (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener), a successful poet (who knew such creatures existed?) navigating some middle-aged bumps and in need not only of massage but of a friend who’ll listen to her. She becomes Eva’s client and pal, and spends a whole lot of time dissecting the shortcomings of her ex.
Then there’s Albert (James Gandolfini), a big bear of a man who works in a library of television watching old programs. Upon being introduced both he and Eva agree that there’s nobody at this party that they’re attracted to and, the possibility of any intimacy eliminated, this frees them up to banter.
Turns out that they share wonderfully self-deprecating senses of humor and an unerring eye for the idiocies of L.A. life.
You guessed it. They’re made for each other.
At least until Eva discovers that Albert is the ex-husband Marianne is forever dissing. She tries to have it both ways, not revealing to either of them that she knows the other, and sinking ever deeper into an ethical/romantic dilemma.
This brief description doesn’t begin to suggest just how clever, funny, and touching “Enough Said” is. It’s genuinely romantic, but in a level-headed, too-old-for-this-crap way. (Of course, before long we realize you’re never too old.)
Dreyfus, who has made a career of playing slightly over-the-top comic characters, is a small revelation in a role that allows her to be funny but substantial. Eva likes to think of herself as a tough cookie, immune to the romance’s emotional roller coaster.
And Gandolfini is heartbreaking as Albert, making fat sexy and offering a character of such fundamental integrity (leavened with romantic yearning) that you find yourself negotiating a major throat lump with the knowledge that this hugely versatile actor is no longer with us.
Holofcener packs her film with juicy dialogue, dead-on performances, and gentle social satire. Even the minor characters — like Eva and Albert’s college-bound daughters (Tracey Fairaway, Eve Hewson) — make an impression. And particularly good is Tavi Gevinson as Chloe, a friend of Eva’s daughter to whom the soon-to-be empty-nester desperately clings.
Moral: Write off love at your own risk.