Were they not already blessed with pithy, snappy titles like Friends With Money and Please Give, the films of writer-director Nicole Holofcener could almost all be called First World Problems. A New York native who got her start working on the sets of Woody Allen movies—clearly an influential experience, creatively speaking—Holofcener specializes in intermittently amusing big-screen sitcoms about the follies and foibles of privileged, city-dwelling women. Obstacles facing her characters have included protecting the family inheritance from a spendthrift husband, waiting on an elderly neighbor to croak in order to expand into her adjacent apartment space, and finding the right time and way to fire the incompetent maid. That last example comes from Holofcener’s latest comedy, Enough Said, but it’s by far the most groan-inducing element of the film. On the whole, this is one of the writer-director’s stronger efforts, largely because it bursts out of the class bubble in which so many of her movies take place and into more universally relatable territory. Yes, the characters are still white financially stable urbanites. This time, though, their problems are not specific to their tax bracket.
Displaying little of the testiness typical of her Elaine Benes or Vice President Selina Meyer characters, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is charming as a divorced mother and middle-aged masseuse, prepping for the departure of her college-bound daughter (Tracey Fairaway) and growing increasingly unhopeful about her romantic prospects. At a party, she meets a poet (Catherine Keener), who becomes a friend and client, and a fellow single parent (James Gandolfini, in his penultimate role), with whom she becomes hesitantly and then rapturously involved. (He’s witty and sincere and also has a daughter on her way out the door.) Things go swimmingly until it gradually dawns on Louis-Dreyfus that the slobbish ex-husband Keener has been constantly complaining about is none other than Gandolfini. While struggling with this bitter intel, and allowing it to poison her feelings, the heroine also bonds with her daughter’s lonely friend (Tavi Gevinson), a development that creates further tension in her life. At least she doesn’t have to deal with that aforementioned maid, whose mediocre work becomes a source of much frustration for married yuppies Toni Collette and Ben Falcone.
Built as it is around a giant coincidence, Enough Said’s basic comic scenario is contrived. Yet Holofcener bends it into something loose and authentic—a lightly funny meditation on divorce, getting older, and impending empty-nest syndrome. Since her acclaimed debut, Walking And Talking, the filmmaker has displayed a clear knack for the nuances of female friendship. (It’s worth noting that she helmed several episodes of Sex And The City and Gilmore Girls.) Here, though, it’s not just the rapport between Louis-Dreyfus and Keener that rings true. Holofcener also floods the central relationship with real feeling, demonstrating how her lovers bond and chafe over their failed marriages. (This is a movie about the allure of mutual melancholy, but also about people whose past mistakes render them overly cautious about making new ones.) Sharp as the dialogue is, it’s hard to imagine any of this working as well without the late, great Gandolfini. His gift for comedy, rarely exploited elsewhere, gets a full showcase here. And he’s a convincing romantic lead—warm, playful, even seductive in his own schlubby way. Who knew that the loss of Tony Soprano was also the loss of a budding rom-com star?