Romantic comedies are predictable even for fans of the genre. Beautiful girl meets gorgeous guy. They're clearly made for each other. Invariably, they fall madly in love. But something or other gets in the way – a narrative obstacle that's serious enough to break them up but not drastic enough to keep them apart forever. Cue tears, misunderstandings, tantrums and more, until the inevitable happy ending trots along to wrap everything up neatly. It's all so painfully predictable that fans of romantic comedies now feel the need to qualify their taste in films: "I know they're terrible/predictable/silly/unrealistic/etc, but I like them anyway!" In other words, we're a long, long way away from the heyday of the romantic comedy in the 1930s and 1940s – when screwball ruled Hollywood and the films being produced were the finest in any genre.
Fortunately, every once in a while, films like writer-director Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said happen along – films so warmly romantic, funny and realistic (after a fashion) that they prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there's life, quality and potential yet in a tired genre.
Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced massage therapist about to send her grown-up daughter off to college. She meets Al (James Gandolfini) at a party, and strikes up a sweet, tender relationship with him – without realising that her newest client Marianne (Catherine Keener) is Al's bitter ex-wife. Instead of coming clean when she first makes the connection, Eva remains friends with Marianne, picking up details about Al's greatest failings and foibles along the way.
A sillier, more farcical version of Enough Said could easily have been made – one that plays up the more ridiculous nature of this unusual love triangle: one side love, one side hate, one side initially blissful ignorance (on poor Al's part, at least). It would have, invariably, wound up on the ever-growing trash-heap of today's rom-coms: bland, silly, forgettable.
Instead, Holofcener has crafted something far finer and wiser: Enough Said is a sunny, charming comedy of manners, deception and relationships that cuts surprisingly deep. The film is startlingly powerful as an examination of the ebb and flow of a relationship: the way in which it can shift, deepen and curdle with the simplest of gestures. Eva and Al's courtship unfolds in the gently awkward way real relationships do, as they test each other's comfort zones and senses of humour. The connection between their characters feels genuine and not forced.
There are no outrageous, contrived twists breaking Eva and Al up: it's all on Eva, as she stumbles through her awkward friendship with Marianne towards inevitable disaster. Eva's slow, agonising betrayal of Al's trust – for that is what it is – is treated with maturity and intelligence: it's something we can imagine ourselves doing in her situation, a complication wrought by human curiosity and error rather than the typically ludicrous twists that break couples up in more traditional rom-coms.
Louis-Dreyfus, radiating charm and sunshine, is a huge reason why Holofcener's film works as well as it does. She makes Eva enormously sympathetic without ever suggesting that she is anything but a normal human being with her own pile of issues to sort through. In Louis-Dreyfus' skillful hands, watching Eva puzzle through her feelings towards Al in light of Marianne's complaints proves enlightening rather than alienating. It might be reprehensible, but it's also understandable, rich with insight into relationships, secrets and trust.
Enough Said is, tragically, Gandolfini's final film – and one of his handful of lead roles on the silver screen. It's a fitting farewell to an excellent actor, one that sees him eschew the histrionics and drama of some of his more flamboyant supporting roles. Here, he inhabits Al's burly frame with teddy-bear sweetness, lending him a quiet dignity as he finds himself increasingly, eerily reminded of his ex-wife with every day he spends with Eva.
Perhaps most impressively of all, Enough Said takes all the tropes that you've come to associate with rom-coms, and gives them a little spin for the better. The boy and girl here are a man and woman who have lived through their share of life and heartbreak. They meet, and fall in love: not in a saccharine-sweet montage of horse-drawn carriages and kisses atop the Empire State Building, but in long conversations and through meeting each other's daughters. There's even a sardonic best friend who provides comic relief, except here, she's a woman who feels frustratingly suffocated in her marriage, played with an undercurrent of sadness by Toni Collette. It all adds up to the finest, sweetest, deepest romantic comedies in years – a film that glorifies its genre while being so good that it comes rather close to transcending it.
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