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14 April 2021

The ghost of James Gandolfini in Enough Said

Nicole Holofcener’s 2013 romantic comedy captures Gandolfini’s spirit and irrepressible charm.  

By Simran Hans

This winter, I watched all 86 episodes of The Sopranos. Too young to catch it when it first aired in 1999, I’ve spent a three-month stretch of restricted socialising and rubbish weather inside with James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, a New Jersey gangster in therapy for depression and panic attacks. I came to care deeply for this failed family man stretched to the limits of his sanity.

This was partly due to Gandolfini, a mercurial screen presence who could modulate between goading and gentle, cruel, funny, sexy, wounded and imperious, sometimes all in a single episode. Gandolfini’s range made me curious to return to the first film I had seen him star in, Nicole Holofcener’s 2013 romantic comedy Enough Said.

Gandolfini plays a divorced TV archivist (cute, given he played one of the most memorable TV characters of all time). At a party, his Albert meets Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s massage therapist Eva, who is also divorced. They bond over their teenage daughters heading off to college, and begin an easy courtship. Poolside at the same party, Eva also befriends a glamorous poet, Marianne (Catherine Keener). She takes her on as a massage client but quickly ends up the woman’s confidante, on the receiving end of “a parade of horribles” about Marianne’s ex-husband. Who, it turns out, is Albert.

Enough Said is most definitely A Nicole Holofcener Film. Normally I’m the first to dispense with auteur theory, which overstates the importance of the director, but the American writer-director’s ear for the rhythm of conversation and fascination with self-destructive characters typifies almost all of her work. From the six feature films she wrote and directed to 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which she co-wrote and received an Oscar nomination for, and even the four episodes of Sex and the City she directed, Holofcener’s cinema finds both comedy and tenderness in the way middle-class women can’t help but create problems for themselves.

[see also: Francis Lee’s Ammonite is a film of earthy, robust sensuality]

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Despite her obvious attraction to Albert, Eva allows his Marianne to poison the budding relationship. As Marianne bemoans her ex’s slobbish behaviour and lifelong “issue” with his weight, Eva begins to make comments about it too, scrutinising the amount of butter in his popcorn and remarking on the calories in guacamole when he politely agrees to a top-up of dip at a dinner party. “You know what I’m gonna get you? I’m gonna get you a calorie book,” she says during the car ride home.

Holofcener has explored the theme of self-sabotage before; her 1996 debut Walking and Talking featured a love interest referred to by two female friends as “the ugly guy”. What’s even more keenly observed is the way Eva puts her new friend Marianne on a pedestal, hanging on to her every word and mimicking her gestures (shoes and socks off in the house: “it’s cleaner”). If a woman as chic and aspirational as Marianne passed on Albert, what does it say about Eva’s own tastes? Yet Albert’s sweetness is undeniable. In one scene, he presents her with a gift, a delicate chain necklace. Gandolfini tenderly lifts her hair from her neck before fastening it, and planting a kiss. There’s additional poignancy here in Eva’s age; approaching middle age, she’s wise to the possibility of heartbreak. The stakes are higher.

In France, Enough Said was titled All About Albert. Watching it now – and indeed, then – Gandolfini’s ghost looms large. The actor died in Rome of a heart attack aged 51, nearly four months before the film was released. Reviewers praised Gandolfini’s spirit and irrepressible charisma, impressed by his ability to embody a softer role. Look for it and there’s a trace of Tony Soprano in Albert: a mob boss might not wear Birkenstocks, but it’s absolutely plausible he’d find himself seduced by an olive-skinned brunette with a mean sense of humour. It’s not a stretch to imagine she’d be charmed by him too, drawn to his big hands, “like paddles”, warm sense of humour and gravelly voice.

In bed, naked, Eva confesses that she’s “tired of being funny”. “So am I,” Albert replies. It physically pains Eva to admit that she does like him, Louis-Dreyfus scrunching up her face and twisting her mouth in an attempt not to cry. In the film’s final scene, she clutches her knees to her chest, physically cringing as she battles her own sense of shame. Then he makes a joke, and everything unclenches.

“Enough Said” is available to stream on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video

This article appears in the 14 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Careless people