A divorced woman who is the parent of a teenage daughter disovers that the man she’s just started a relationship with is the ex-husband of her new female friend.
LA Confidential by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
This sharply observed mid-life romcom – verging on sitcom – has a great screenplay and the laughs keep coming. It’s set in suburban Los Angeles and Santa Monica, shot in bright primary colours. But though it’s pacy and the dialogue is snappy, it’s not shallow – its plot is founded on the complex web of adult emotions that keeps marriages and families functioning.
Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, lately of Veep, and, notably, Elaine in Seinfeld), blessed with an endlessly mobile, expressive face for comedy, stars for the first time on the big screen as Eva, a hard-working, well-meaning, somewhat put-upon masseuse who visits clients in their homes – we see her struggling up flights of stairs lugging her heavy massage table. She’s a divorcee, with a teenage daughter about to leave home for college.
Taken by her best friend and her husband on a rare outing to a well-connected party, she meets television show archivist Albert (James Gandolfini of Mafia-boss fame in The Sopranos playing against type in his penultimate role). He’s an overweight, but twinkly-eyed and witty, sensitive, vulnerable teddy bear. He too is a divorcee with a daughter about to leave for college, though she lives with his ex-wife, not with him. Although both Eva and Albert claim not to have been attracted, they go on a first date, realise they have so much in common it’s as if they’ve always known each other and start to fall in love. Their first kiss makes them stupidly happy and from then on, things happen quickly. Their onscreen chemistry is great and the tentative details of their courtship are touching.
At the party Eva also meets poetess Marianne (Catherine Keener, Oscar-nominated for Being John Malkovich, soon to be seen in Captain Phillips, and a regular in Nicole Holofcener’s work). As a result, Eva takes her on as a new massage client and they become friends. Marianne’s the kind of woman who can announce to Eva in all seriousness “I had a wonderful phone call from Joni Mitchell this morning”. Like Eva’s other female clients, she bitches to her about her loser ex-husband. “She’s like a human Trip Advisor,” Eva comments.
But soon all Marianne’s ex’s little quirks start to sound frighteningly familiar and Eva realises that her new best friend’s ex-husband is the guy she’s dating, Albert. That’s a real sitcom coincidence and, as in sitcoms, instead of coming clean straightaway, curiosity gets the better of her, she says nothing and pumps disgruntled Marianne about her ex – which starts to poison her once-promising new relationship with Albert. At a particularly gruesome dinner party, Eva goes too far and drunkenly taunts Albert about habits Marianne had complained about, which previously hadn’t bothered her, and he is deeply hurt – “You sound just like my ex-wife”.
At the film’s heart is the cautionary tale of what can happen to people who have been round the block emotionally. They think the way to protect themselves from being hurt again is by finding out as much as they can in advance about a potential partner. But instead of trusting their own instincts, they forget they are relying on someone else’s bias. It’s possible to find out too much. How to manage a relationship with an ex-spouse is another theme and Eva’s achievement of a workable rapport with her ex contrasts with Albert’s acrimonious one with his. Eva’s psychoanalyst best friend Sarah, though not a divorcee, has her own issues with marital and domestic compromise, but Toni Collette is underused in this role.
It’s not all middle-aged people with issues, though. The younger generation teenage-girls subplot entwines with the main story line. Tracey Fairaway as Eva’s daughter and Tavi Gevinson as her friend are rivals for Eva’s affections – the daughter preparing herself for leaving home by distancing herself from her mother and the friend, unhappy with her own divorced mother, wanting to take her place with Eva. Unusually, Eva and the girls are able to confide in each other very openly.
And as Eva and Albert’s relationship develops, she meets a very different teenage girl, his snooty daughter Tess (Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter), and this meeting brings about the denouement. Now the two have met, it’s just a matter of time until Tess comes home when Eva is there visiting her mother Marianne. And when Tess appears, she doesn’t just come alone, she’s with Albert. The four of them meet face to horrified face and Eva’s budding relationships with both Albert and Marianne implode. The breach of trust seems irreparable, but time passes and the two daughters are due home for Thanksgiving with their respective families. And when two adults in their middle years who are missing each other finally talk to each other, it seems that age and experience have may have taught them to forgive and forget.
Writer and director Nicole Holofcener has worked on iconic TV shows Six Feet Under and Sex and the City. She has directed five feature films including Friends with Money, which starred Jennifer Aniston, and Please Give. As well as her excellent screenplay, there’s an excellent cast. The characters are well observed, normal people – for Los Angeles – and the film’s resolution is inconclusive enough not to be overly sentimental. James Gandolfini reveals wonderful comic timing, as well as conveying Albert’s innate dignity and sensitivity beneath an outsized exterior. If only we could have seen more of him like this. There is one more film of his in the can, due for release next year, Animal Rescue, though it’s unlikely to be a comedy.
The best line in the film? There are lots, but the one that got the cinema rocking was Eva’s line when she drops her daughter off at high school to a another student who has dropped some litter: “Pick up your trash – you’re not British!”. Now where did that come from?
Enough Said is screened at the BFI London Film Festival from 12-14 October and is released on 18th October 2013 in the UK