The premise of Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said is that Eva, a divorced masseuse (Louis-Dreyfus), begins a relationship, only to find out that her new love interest, Albert (Gandolfini), is the ex-husband of a client and “friend.” As she listens to her friend (Keener) relentlessly trash the man she is dating, she has second thoughts about pursuing the romance.
I happened to see Enough Said the day after screening Inside Llewyn Davis. Both films featured caustic–some might say cruel–women verbally abusing the men they once partnered. That’s a broad connection and perhaps too singular a reason for disliking a pair of films that do other things considerably well. A day later I opined, somewhat sarcastically, that this device would be hilarious if the gender roles were reversed.
Of course they wouldn’t be. With Enough Said, I almost am persuaded that this is the point. Gandolfini’s character struggles with his body image, specifically his weight. Eva cares more about what her friends think of her than what her partner feels. She has the sort of trophy-partner mentality normally associated with men.
But if gender reversal was Holofcener’s technique for getting us to see the sorts of double standards women put up with daily, I fear that message gets largely blurred by the film’s unwavering sympathy with Eva. Sure Albert can say that she “broke [his] heart,” but her explanations cling too tenaciously to self-pardon to make me believe either: a) that the film wants us to think of her as badly as she looks in the final analysis; or b) that the film would accept the same justifications from a man for being emotionally cruel to a woman.
Eva does convince us that she is more broken than cruel. But the sitcom plot, relying as it does on hidden secrets, really leaves itself no way for Albert to see her misgivings. The longer it goes on the more intentional her deception appears to him because it can no longer be explained as her having been momentarily overcome with fright or mixed feelings.
The film toys with but does not explore various other motivations for Eva. Specifically, the loneliness of being post-divorce and facing an empty nest is supposed to drive her to cling to an unhealthy friendship. Here the film shows admitted insight. Choosing between friends and partners might be a no-brainer to people of a certain age or from a certain generation. As divorce rates climb culture wide, however, the ideal of loyalty has fewer and fewer role models in the marriage relationship. The notion that a dating relationship is a place to practice how one would treat a spouse–be exclusive, prioritize him/her above friends–appears to be similarly absent from the culture as well. Marriage has become another form of serial monogamy, a more advanced stage of dating but not all that different from it. This condition differs quite a bit from marriage being in a different category altogether. With little distinction to be made between marriage and dating, how much less is there to make between dating and casually “seeing” someone?
Another way in which role reversals are present is in Albert’s response to the big sitcom reveal. A couple of years ago, one of the things I admired about Forgetting Sarah Marshall is that it gave the injured party time and space to recuperate. This struck me at the time as being a step up from having the wronged party simply resign herself to a lowering of standards. It also seemed honest to me that there wasn’t a big rom-com device to throw them back together while allowing the injured party’s resolve to stay intact. (The plausibility and fortuity of that reuniting of the lovers is what separates Jane Austen from most second rate romance writers.) But at least in that film there were external signals of a change in the injuring party, a change not just in feelings but in character.
The resolution in Enough Said, conversely, feels like two scared, lonely people resigning themselves to the fact that the other, imperfect, person is the best they can do. That sort of relational “we’re all imperfect” equivalency bothers me, since it puts annoying habits (like how he swirls his dip) on the same level as character defects (lying and publicly humiliating someone you care for).
Julia Louis Dreyfus saves the movie, though, mostly by playing against type. She brings a vulnerability to Eva that keeps you from hating her and makes you at least understand how Albert could continue to feel for her. Gandolfini plays against type, too, and as much as I loved his work in The Sopranos, I’m glad we got this reminder that he was not simply a so-so actor who stumbled into the role of a lifetime. His passing lends an extra layer of sadness over the whole film that is undeniable and yet somehow feels less tawdry than all the curiosity of watching Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.
I did not like the film as a whole, but it made me feel more tender towards the performers.