Gandolfini larger than life in charming ‘Enough Said’

September 17, 2013

In writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s new film, “Enough Said,” Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini) don’t exactly meet cute.

“Eva was just telling me there’s no one at this party she’s attracted to,” a mutual friend tells Albert as an appalled Eva looks on. “That’s OK,” the nonplussed Albert responds. “There’s no one here I’m attracted to, either.”

It’s the tentative beginning of a romance between Eva, a neurotic divorcee who’s freaking out because her daughter is about to go off to college, and Albert, a sweet and droll, if hefty, television historian who is all too aware of his overweight physique and other flaws. “I’m a slob,” he tells Eva on their first date. “I have ear hair.”

Nevertheless, Eva finds herself falling for the gentle giant until a wrench is thrown into the picture: Turns out Eva’s new pal, Marianne (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener), is Albert’s ex-wife, and Eva wastes no time in milking her for all the dirt on Albert, without telling either friend of her deception. 

Like all of Holofcener’s films, “Enough Said” began with questions the writer-director was pondering about her own life and those of her friends. The filmmaker, for example, has 16-year-old twin sons who will soon go off to college, and she’s anxious thinking about what her life will be like without them.

While she has a longtime boyfriend, Holofcener’s ex-husband used to at times drive her bonkers — and vice versa — and she finds herself dishing about her ex to her beau. Meanwhile, her boyfriend complained to her about his ex-wife, and Holofcener’s ex blabbed about the filmmaker to his new girlfriend. “It was like a big game of telephone,” the wry, 53-year-old Holofcener said recently over lunch at a café near her Venice home. “It’s a wonder how any of us ever got out of bed in the morning.”

“Enough Said” is not only about dating in midlife but also “about immaturity in adults,” Holofcener added. “The things that Eva does are so horrendous and childish. It’s like junior high school behavior, and it comes from the desire to hedge her bets and see if she can avoid the mistakes she’s made before, which inadvertently creates an enormous mess.

“I also wanted to explore what are the deal breakers in a relationship,” Holofcener added. “Is appearance really important, and are the things that annoy Marianne going to annoy Eva? Because one woman’s hell can be another woman’s heaven.”

Talking to Holofcener — an independent film and TV veteran known for her hilariously astute observations of flawed urban sophisticates — is like kibitzing with an old friend, or like meeting a character from one of her movies. Wearing hip, thick-framed glasses, a striped shirt and bright yellow trousers, she dished on all the “cool, aloof non-Jews” she used to be attracted to in her 20s. “Maybe it’s self-loathing,” she said. “But those shaygetz boys were really fine; I had fun,” she added, with a laugh.  (Her current boyfriend, who edits all her films, is kind, supportive — and Jewish).  

Holofcener shrugs when asked about reviewers who have compared her work to Woody Allen’s: “I’d prefer not to be compared to anybody,” she said, then joked, “It’s probably anti-Semitic, because we’re both such Jews.”

But there is a family connection to Woody: The filmmaker’s mother, Carol, worked as a set designer on Allen’s films, and her stepfather was Allen’s longtime producer, Charles H. Joffe. He got Holofcener her first job, as a production assistant on Allen’s 1982 film, “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.”

Holofcener remembers Allen as “sly, funny, awkward” — and occasionally sarcastic; he once hit her over the head with her own lollypop. But he did give Holofcener a second job, as an apprentice editor on “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986). Holofcener went on to attend film school at Columbia University and to make a series of comedy-dramas that drew on her own observations.

“Walking and Talking” (1996) stemmed from her own jealous behavior when she was wretchedly single while her best friend was deliriously in love and getting married; “Lovely & Amazing” (2001) was in part inspired by her mother’s adoption of an African-American child; and “Please Give” began when two of Holofcener’s friends each bought apartments in New York that were still inhabited by elderly residents, “and they were basically waiting for them to die so they could [move in],” she recalled.

In all of Holofcener’s previous movies, Keener — Holofcener’s close friend — portrayed the filmmaker’s alter ego; for “Enough Said,” however, Holofcener selected Louis-Dreyfus (of “Seinfeld” fame) to play the female lead.  

Also cast against type is Gandolfini, who died of a heart attack while on vacation in Rome last June at the age of 51. But even though he is best known for his tough-guy roles, especially Tony Soprano on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” Holofcener recognized that the actor also had “an enormous range,” she said.  

Gandolfini, however, was initially hesitant to accept the role, unsure that he could pull off a romantic comedy. “He was also insecure, like all of us, about his appearance and attractiveness,” Holofcener said. “Julia is really beautiful and tiny, and he often said that he felt like a buffalo next to her.”

While Gandolfini’s performance is tender and even heartbreaking, the actor could be a jokester on the set; when the cinematographer once complained about the dark T-shirt the performer was wearing in one scene, Gandolfini swapped shirts with a prop woman and paraded around in her brightly colored tube top. “He was fine making fun of himself and making people laugh,” Holofcener said.

The film makes frequent references to Albert’s oversized belly: He is so self-conscious about his heft that he offers to wear a T-shirt in the bedroom, and in one scene Eva nastily offers to buy him a calorie-counting book.

“Those things are really hard to watch now that Jim is dead,” Holofcener said. “I feel like apologizing to him and to the people he loved. But ultimately, the character has the last laugh, so he is redeemed.”

Holofcener admits that she has received flak from family and friends because of her references to them in her work. “I do have to be careful because I have hurt people’s feelings,” she said. “People have even warned [others] not to talk to me, because they say I’m going to write about their lives. And I suppose that’s true; what else am I going to write about — cowboys and Indians?

“But I do make fun of myself more than anybody else,” she said of her cinematic alter egos. “Eva, for example, is a buffoon, an insensitive critical jerk.  So at least I don’t paint myself in any perfect way.”

“Enough Said” is now in theaters.

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