I love the work of Nicole Holofcener. Before this year’s Enough Said, she hadn’t made many films. But as a writer-director she has the uncanny knack of capturing life as it’s lived, especially by not-so-young women who lack self-confidence. And really, don’t we all?
Holofcener, daughter of an artist and a set-decorator, graduated from NYU film school, then worked on Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. In her own films, she’s a miniaturist, adept at painting the nuances of small-scale social interaction. I didn’t see her debut feature, Walking and Talking (1996), but she had me at Lovely & Amazing, her 2001 dramedy about a mother and three daughters, one of whom (the adorable Emily Mortimer) agonizes horribly over her failure to measure up to society’s standards of beauty. I found Friends with Money (2006) less interesting. But Enough Said dispels all doubts about Holofcener’s talent. Here’s a social comedy that’s both hilariously funny and touchingly real.
The all-important female lead is Julia Louis-Dreyfus at her most expressive. She plays a divorced mom at a pivotal moment: her daughter is about to leave for college, and she’s not feeling so good about going it alone. Playing opposite her is James Gandolfini, that great bear of a man who, sadly, passed away just before the film’s release. They meet, are drawn together by what they have in common, then are pulled apart by forces that count for more than they should. I’m trying not to spoil the pleasures of the film’s deceptively simple plotting. Suffice it to say that this is a movie about romantic compatibility, about letting go of (almost-)grown children, and about having the courage of your convictions. The triumph of Holofcener’s screenplay (as well as her on-target casting choices) is that not a single line sounds written. For all we know, these are real – though familiar-looking -- people up there on screen, speaking their minds, for better or for worse.
I also reveled in the fact that Enough Said is such a very L.A. movie. (In this, it reminds me of another personal favorite, The Kids are All Right. To be honest, I remembered this as a Holofcener film, until I discovered it was made by another gifted miniaturist, Lisa Chodolenko.) Holofcener grew up in New York, but for years she’s lived with her two sons in Venice, California. Which is why, of course, she has the geographical details down pat. Hers is not the L.A. of glitz and movie stars, nor of high-rises and urban squalor. Louis-Dreyfus, tooling around in her snappy blue Prius, is every inch the Westside mom. The various houses in the film all look genuinely lived-in, and I feel I’ve been in most of them at one time or another. The restaurants – Lilly’s on Abbott Kinney Blvd. and Guido’s just off Bundy – are places I know. The characters’ professions seem right: she’s a masseuse who makes house calls, he heads some sort of TV archive. Then there’s the key character played by a Holofcener regular, Catherine Keener. She’s the most L.A. sort of successful poet, one who pals around with Joni Mitchell and tends a backyard herb garden that’s to die for.
Holofcener gets the SoCal details so right that it’s jarring on the rare occasion when a location doesn’t make sense. Like the scene of Louis-Dreyfus’s daughter leaving for Sarah Lawrence: that unfamiliar terminal, supposedly at LAX, was definitely a distraction. Still, the mother-daughter parting seemed poignantly real, and reminded me of a great Holofcener quote: “It's harder to take care of kids than it is to make a movie.” ‘Nuff said.