Enough Said is one of those rare romantic comedies that actually feels like it’s happening in a reasonably good approximation of real life.
There are no gilded cages, no idealised lives, no perfect romantic moments unsullied by the odd misstep – it’s all delightfully, painfully, awkwardly real and a pleasure to watch as a result.
And that’s largely down to the two leads, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva and the late James Gandolfini as Albert, who take the witty, gritty bon mots of screenwriter Nicole Holofcener (who also directed the movie) and their all too palpable, charmingly natural chemistry and fashion them into a romance that feels like it could happen to two people you actually know.
Two people who, though both divorced, and wary as a result of tumbling into a new relationship without a host of guarantees – all of which are largely cast aside in the bright new glow of new love; I say largely because Eva’s residual trust issues almost bring things undone as the relationship progresses – find themselves falling little by little into love, with a reasonably benign ex-husband, bitter ex-wife, one daughter apiece and rather ordinary though satisfying careers.
There is no magical “meet cute”, that moment in most rom-coms when the two people destined to be together lock eyes across a crowded party, or knock each other’s groceries to the ground, get talking, laugh and realise that something rather wonderful could be afoot.
It’s a cliched construct (although one that as a hopeless romantic I can’t help but secretly enjoy each and every one even as the realist in me rolls its eyes) and pretty much missing in action when Eva and Albert meet at a party when Will (Ben Falcone), husband of Eva’s BBF Sarah (Toni Collette, with Aussie accent refreshingly intact), declares to Albert and his friend that Eva finds no one at the party even remotely attractive.
The brief moment of awkwardness is broken by Albert admitting he didn’t find any of the women attractive either to which Eva says, in that low key trailing off manner that Julie Louis-Dreyfus has down to a very pleasing fine art, ” Yep it’s an ugly crowd” (or words to that effect).
And so in a rather realistic, understated way begins the tentative romance between TV archivist Albert, who works at the Museum of American Cultural History, a repository for classic TV shows housed in a large warehouse, and masseuse Eva, who spends her days lugging her massage table to clients with bad breath, narcissistic conversational tendencies or ridiculously high, steep stairs and no inclination to help her navigate them.
Eva and Albert are both close to being empty nesters, with their respective daughters Ellen (Tracey Fairway) and Tess (Eve Hewson), close to departing to college, leaving their parents, as Eva observes, in needs of hobbies of some kind.
It’s throwaway remark but hints at the idea that both of them are missing something and it could possibly, maybe, be a relationship with someone they actually like.
You know, the person standing right in front of them if they can summon the courage to take the risk that every new relationship, particularly those in later life, burdened too much bad life experience, demands.
Of course all of this love, true love, which does happen slowly and honestly, and is accompanied by the usual questions about past relationships, likes and dislikes and sexual explorations, is complicated to a mighty degree when Eva discovers that her new client Marianne (Catherine Kenner), a self-involved poet who prides herself on observing the human condition but who is manifestly unable to recognise her own lack of self-awareness, is Albert’s bitter ex-wife.
All too ready to rattle off a list of Albert’s perceived failings and character flaws, she plays into Eva’s insecurities about having another failed relationship on her hands and the two of them find themselves in a rather unhealthy codependent friendship of which only Eva is aware of its true nature.
Afraid to fully trust Albert, who has fallen unquestioningly and deeply in love with her, Eva listens to Marianne’s never ending litany of supposed Albert-caused woes – issues you begin to suspect have their origins more with Marianne’s deficiencies as a person than with Albert’s less than trim physique or hatred of onion-filled guacamole – and allows herself to be influenced by her new client and friend to the point where the relationship is poisoned as a result.
There’s nothing new here of course – every rom-com must have its moment when the relationship totters, staggers and seems to fall under the weight of a tragic misunderstanding or poor decision-making by one or both parties, until it is plucked from oblivion at the ninth hour by some grand romantic gesture, but what is different here, under the steady, sure hand of Nicole Holofcener, is how utterly, heart-rendingly real it all feels.
It doesn’t have the trappings of an artificially constructed plot device, though of course it is; rather it has all the hallmarks of an insecure person (Eva) allowing her flawed emotional second-guessing to get the better of her instead of following her heart, a course of action which almost has dire results.
In keeping with the uncomfortable realness of the moment, you’re allowed to believe the relationship is irretrievably damaged, beyond any hope of repair, which in the real world would most likely be the case.
The fact that it isn’t is hardly a surprise but it’s the way every nuance of the relationship is allowed to play out and run its course, the way in which various characters, particularly Eva and Albert, are allowed to be awkward, goofy, and racked by the inability to get it as right as they imagine it should be, and the bumpy, chaotic and ultimately funny and charming manner in which things are and aren’t resolved that makes Enough Said a truly unique, utterly remarkable and immensely enjoyable rom-com viewing experience.