DO YOU REMEMBER the moment when you figured out that inside of other people's heads, peering out through their eyeballs, there are little sentient brain-pilots who are just as perceptive and complicated and self-interested as the one driving you around? I think I was 13, and listening to Modest Mouse at the time... like, whoa. There are people in there! They can see me.
It's a short hop from that moment to the premise of Nicole Holofcener's new movie, Enough Said: The way you see yourself is not the way other people see you, and how you see other people has as much to do with the baggage you're carrying as it does with what those people are actually like.
In other words, life is complicated.
In Enough Said, Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a single mom with a good relationship with her daughter, a busy practice as a massage therapist, and a nice best-friend couple who sometimes lets her tag along on their dates. She's pretty and funny and cheerful—a nice change from the way single middle-aged ladies are often portrayed on film. When she meets Albert (James Gandolfini) at a party, they immediately hit it off and a promising grownup romance begins to flourish.
Until Eva realizes that her new friend Marianne (Catherine Keener), a poet, is Albert's ex-wife. Which means that all the complaining Marianne has been doing about her ex—about how he's unambitious, has annoying habits, and is lousy in bed—is actually about Albert.
But rather than tell Albert and Marianne about the awkward coincidence, she continues to pump Marianne for info about Albert's flaws. And with each new revelation, Eva's enthusiasm for her new boyfriend fades a little bit further. (What Eva doesn't seem to notice is that Marianne, despite her beautiful home and implausible career as a poet, is herself kind of insufferable.)
If the premise feels a bit contrived, the payoff is worth it, because the characters are so resolutely multifaceted: Albert is great, and he has some super annoying habits. Eva is kind and well intentioned, and capable of making hurtful, self-interested decisions.
As a director, Holofcener's body of work makes a good case for the argument that creativity thrives on limits. All of her films are built from the same building blocks: From her 1996 debut Walking and Talking through Lovely and Amazing, Friends with Money, and Please Give, each of Holofcener's movies are about white women. They're about self-deception and unhappiness and relationships and how to be a good person. Catherine Keener is always in them.
But from this toolbox of feelings and Catherine Keeners, Holofcener consistently constructs perceptive, emotionally acute films that are clear-eyed about human frailty. And while it doesn't let any of the characters off the hook for their bullshit—it wouldn't be a Holofcener joint if it did—Enough Said is her warmest movie to date, thanks to the insanely likeable Louis-Dreyfus and a great turn from Gandolfini, in his last performance before his death. (If he had to go out, this is a fine note to go out on: His character is kind, funny, rumpled, and handsome in a suit. Flawed, but trying. You know: a person.)
Enough Said is certainly ripe for the same criticism as Holofcener's other work—chiefly, that she only writes and directs movies about privileged white people—but those, as ever, miss the mark: Her work is deeply interested in interpersonal dynamics, and she's attentive to how economic and racial privilege factor into the way humans relate to each other. Holofcener is the kind of director whose work is only interesting if you think other people are interesting, because she captures so precisely the nuances and pitfalls of human interaction.