News Column

'Enough Said' demonstrates how much James Gandolfini deserves to be missed

September 26, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 26--Here's a revealing line from Nicole Holofcener's modest little romantic comedy "Enough Said." Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini are in bed together having post-hookup pillow talk. There's a lot to be learned about each other's lives, but they're both old enough to take things slowly and continuously.

He broke his nose a few times, he explains to her. "At this point, my doctor says my nose is purely ornamental." Anyone who remembers weekly clumps of dialogue accompanied by the sound of Gandolfini's oft-obstructed airways on "The Sopranos" has to think that writer/director Holofcener came up with that line specifically for the actor she was lucky to land to be Louis-Dreyfus' romantic co-star.

After all, Gandolfini is not the first actor you'd think of to play a TV scholar who works at a broadcasting museum and knows inconsequential old sitcom episodes by heart. But once you've got one of America's favorite cable TV bears as your co-star, you can add all kinds of realistic grace notes to your dialogue -- about ill-functioning facial features and carrying too much weight around. You can sharpen the focus to the point of high-def portraiture.

Louis-Dreyfus is good but, obviously, the unconventional final starring role of Gandolfini -- who died of a heart attack at the tragic age of 51 -- is the chief attraction of the film. It's an exemplary demonstration of how very much he deserves to be missed -- how much versatility he might have had even after all those years of Tony Soprano's being seared into our brainpans.

There seem to be two other final films -- a Nickelodeon TV thing called "Nicky Deuce" that he obviously did because it was based on a children's book co-written by his old "Sopranos" goombah Steve Schirippa (Michael Imperioli is in it, too), and the crime drama "Animal Rescue" in which, once again, the criminal milieu seems familiar.

"Enough Said" is a movie whose lack of underlining and italicizing would seem to be the whole point of it all. In the warmth and off-hand and low-key charm Gandolfini exhibits, it is clear that, in its small way, it showed a new side to his talents that would undoubtedly have grown.

It's no revelation. Or it shouldn't be, anyway. Gandolfini was known as a very good actor long before he was Tony Soprano. But he's a completely endearing presence in a movie like "Enough Said," which spends its first 20 minutes being dangerously "girly" and reminiscent of Holofcener's best-known place of employment, the writing and directing stable of "Sex and the City."

Once Gandolfini enters the picture -- as he meets Louis-Dreyfus' character at a party -- the actress stops doing all the sheepish, audience-courting mugging she's become used to doing on TV for years and the film turns into an enormously likable little thing about a midlife romance that is taking its sweet time about going where everyone in the audience wants it to go.

The plot is virtually a "Dear Abby" letter: A masseuse (Louis-Dreyfus) is fretfully used to living single and is about to become an empty-nester when her daughter gets ready to leave for college. She meets a TV historian at a party in the same life situation -- divorce, daughter on the way out of town to college.

But what if this overweight and sneakily charming and funny man turns out to be the ex-husband of a client who has become her newest friend (Catherine Keener)?

"Dear Abby, what do I do?" Well, you don't quite react the way she does in the movie, which is where both the comedy and romantic complication come from.

"Enough Said" is a mild little thing but nothing if not likable -- mostly because it seems tailor-made to these two completely compatible performers. I know as little about women's makeup as most men in this world, but if Louis-Dreyfus isn't performing this role without makeup, she's certainly awfully close to it.

It's a nice comedy about what can happen when people meet who are not trying to pretend they're 24 anymore.

How sad it is that it turned out to be about a terrific actor who was so much more versatile and promising than his tidally powerful typecasting showed us before.

How much better than this movie, in fact, its sequel might have been.

But alas, for this kind of film with Gandolfini, it will have to suffice as "enough."

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

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