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MOVIE REVIEW: Gandolfini shines as romantic lead in ‘Enough Said’

Enough Said

(PG-13)

4 out of 4 stars

The year that produced the worst roster of summer popcorn fare in decades also produced four superb romance movies geared towards the over-40 demographic that are the antithesis of formulaic, bloated, mainstream extravaganzas. First was “Love is All You Need” then “Unfinished Song” followed by “Still Mine” and now — the best of the bunch — “Enough Said.”

Contrary to what you might have heard, this is not the final screen performance of the late James Gandolfini; that would be next year’s “Animal Rescue,” a crime drama based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”). “Enough Said” is the only film where Gandolfini played the romantic lead and after watching it, you get the gnawing feeling he should have been in more movies like it. His character (Albert) is a more accurate reflection of American men than anything found in most movies, but because he’s soft-spoken, balding and overweight, Albert is not what comes to mind when studio producers are green-lighting projects.

It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to assume that Gandolfini never received any offers for characters like Albert because of the indelible impression he left while playing lead character Tony in “The Sopranos.” There have been many performers whose success in a single, small screen role has stereotyped them and crippled everything they did (or tried to do) afterward. Even though she has starred (as the lead) in two successful TV series’ since, Julia Louis-Dreyfus will forever be associated with her supporting role as Elaine in “Seinfeld.”

In “Enough Said,” Louis-Dreyfus takes the lead as Eva, who is a variation on Elaine minus the shallow self-absorption and misplaced, run-amuck ego. Eva is a “home-delivery” masseuse who makes a decent living but isn’t very fond of her clients. One has bad breath, another blabbers on incessantly and another (a male) regularly fails to help carry her heavy bulky table up a high, steep staircase. Long divorced with a teen daughter preparing for college, Eva has more or less given up on dating — mostly because she has impossibly high standards.

At a party she attends with her psychiatrist friend Sarah (Toni Collette) and her husband Will (Ben Falcone) Eva meets Albert (also with a college-bound daughter) and is refreshingly surprised with his offbeat humor and absence of pretense. Also at the party is Marianne (Catherine Keener), a professional poet who (in keeping with most Keener characters) is a bit prickly and aloof yet asks Eva for her card and eventually becomes a client and confidant. When Sarah tells Eva the next day that Albert asked about possibly dating her, she dismisses it stating he’s not her type and is “too fat.” Sarah — slyly slipping into work mode — convinces Eva to give Albert a chance and — go figure — she goes on the date and has a great time.

The dialogue exchanged during Eva and Albert’s first two dates is among the finest ever written for a romance. Blending drama, comedy, mild sexual innuendo and awkwardness into a seamless whole, Nicole Holofcener (also the director), achieves the near impossible: making what normal adults might consider to be frivolous small talk sound significant yet effortless. These are two people getting to know each other in the best possible manner and it is pure bliss for both them and the audience. It also makes us totally forget about Tony and Elaine and that’s no mean feat by anyone’s yardstick.

If you want to be fully surprised with what happens from the start of the second act and beyond, do yourself a huge favor: please don’t watch the trailer. It gives away the films’ biggest twist and does everyone involved in the creation of “Enough Said” an incredible disservice. It also makes the movie look more like a traditional dumbed-down rom-com and fails to include any of the many dramatic high points. While funny most of the time, Holofcener rightfully realizes that no relationship worth its’ salt is without bumps or unpleasant sidetracks and these inclusions make the picture as a whole all the more authentic, relatable and heartfelt — without ever being sappy, maudlin or force-fit.

Holofcener’s bravest narrative choice and greatest achievement (which some may angrily compare to the final episode of “The Sopranos”) is ending the film with a cold cut to black in mid-scene without the inclusion of definitive closure.

After the cast credits there’s more black and then the words “For Jim.” It’s easily most moving bit of post-action text you’re ever likely to see, will possibly elicit goose flesh and eye moisture and make you realize you’ve just witnessed acting perfection — despite that big gut, thin hair, grey beard, questionable wardrobe choices and all of those other pesky, unsexy attributes.

Thank you, Jim for all you gave us. You will be sorely missed. (Fox Searchlight)