There will always be that niggling thought in the back of everyone’s mind when discussing Enough Said with its director and stars: it’s the last film that James Gandolfini made before he died. His turn as a divorced father embarking on a new romance is the most prominent and interesting male role elicited by director Nicole Holofcener in her five-film career, and yet that fact is almost lost in all the talk of his death.
“His death was as horrible for me as it was for you or anyone who really loved him or was a fan of his work or knew him,” Holofcener tells me at the Toronto Film Festival, a statement that appreciates how the untimely death of the Sopranos star seemed to affect the world. “I hadn’t known him for that long, and I still really didn’t. It’s devastating, and I’m still kind of in shock. Even now I can’t believe he isn’t going to walk into the room.”
Gandolfini plays Albert, the male romantic love interest in a movie that finally gives the Seinfeld and Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus the lead role that her work on television has seemed to demand for more than two decades. She has won four Emmys and received more nominations – 14 – than any other actress. In Enough Said, Louis-Dreyfus depicts masseuse Eva, who meets Albert at a party. Separately, she also meets and befriends poet Marianne (Catherine Keener), who turns out to be Albert’s ex-wife. The triangle is made murky when Eva decides that it’s best not to tell Albert that she knows Marianne and vice versa.
“I wouldn’t do what Eva does,” Louis-Dreyfus says of her character’s decision. “I’m not even sure that Eva is in control of what she is doing. I think she is hijacked by an emotional reaction because of where she is at in her life; it’s almost as if she can’t control herself despite her intentions. Her dread at the impending departure of her daughter to university is fuelling her emotions in a way that she doesn’t realise.”
Holofcener wryly observes that divorced middle-aged couples have just as much trouble with romance as their teenage offspring. As with her previous films, Walking and Talking (1996), Lovely and Amazing (2001), Friends with Money (2006) and Please Give (2010), Holofcener focuses more on character development than the plot. Eva is well-intentioned and happy-go-lucky. Albert is slightly morose, unsure, weathered by life’s battles. Marianne is bitter and acerbic.
It’s great and unusual to see a film in which the protagonist is a middle-aged female, something that Holofcener believes is traditionally a problem with American cinema: “I think it’s harder to get a movie made with a middle-aged star. I think once a woman turns 40, the audience thinks she’s gross. It’s terrible. I’m very lucky that I have got all my movies made, because they are all about older women.”
Revolving her stories around human relationships and centring them on multifaceted female leads has often led to the almost dismissive accusation that Holofcener makes films for women. Yet she hates being termed a female director, or a director for women.
“I don’t like it,” she says. “Men who are actually thoughtful and interested in these things will go and see my film. I don’t like to focus on my gender in terms of talking about women in film; people should just say directors.”
Keener, who has appeared in all of Holofcener’s films, adds: “If I was a sociologist I would probably say there are some differences. But from an actor’s perspective, we don’t care about a director’s gender, just as long as they are cool, play hard and are serious about their work.”
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