Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is her own person, and her work, once seen, reminds you of no one else's. Actors James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are the boldface names that will convince moviegoers to see her latest film, "Enough Said," but it is Holofcener's world they will be entering — and celebrating when they leave.
In this, her fifth feature, Holofcener continues to make funny, melancholy, dead-on honest films about fallible people attempting not to make a complete mess of their lives. Movies like "Please Give" and "Friends With Money" as well as this one reveal Holofcener's gift for portraying life as it is lived, a gift characterized by a sensitivity to the nuances of insecurity and awkwardness that beset us as we struggle to avoid disappointing the people who mean the most to us.
Because her films are so intimate, they allow actors to blossom, and both Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini reveal sides of themselves not often seen as they play two people from Los Angeles' Westside who are drawn to each other but not quite sure how to handle what turn out to be complicated ramifications of the attraction.
Fearless in the face of her characters' emotional floundering, Holofcener has them explore everything from empty nest syndrome to the pitfalls of firing the help. But what "Enough Said" looks at most of all is how we sabotage ourselves and each other by not understanding, as the title indicates, how to avoid saying too much or too little but just enough.
This is especially true of Louis-Dreyfus' Eva, "Enough Said's" protagonist. A busy masseuse, Eva is introduced in an entertaining montage of snapshots from her professional life as she lugs her massage table around West L.A., cheerfully putting up with the thoughtless foibles of her regular customers: clients who talk too much, smell badly or don't help with the heavy lifting.
In her personal life, Eva is a divorced single parent who is nervously preparing for a major change in her day to day situation: Her only child, daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), is about to head across the country to an East Coast college, leaving her very much alone.
Eva's best friend is Sarah (the versatile Toni Collette), a psychotherapist who could use some help with her own marriage to Will ("Bridesmaids'" Ben Falcone). The couple drag Eva to a party where she meets two people who take over her life as well as the film.
Met first is Marianne (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener), a successful poet of the type who's known Joni Mitchell for years. A fastidious individual who has the impeccable house Eva would kill for, she turns out to be in need of both massages and friendship. Eva can't believe that someone like this, a woman who not only grows chervil but gives her some, would want to hang out with her, and is soon hanging on the poet's every word.
That party is also notable because it's where Eva meets Albert (Gandolfini), a divorced single dad with another only-in-L.A. job, television archivist. As people of a certain age, Eva and Albert are both wary of new relationships, but they bond over empty nest syndrome — his sharp-tongued daughter Tess (Eve Hewson, Bono's daughter) is also leaving for college back East — and soon enough they are happily going out together. With a catch.
For closeness with Marianne means the poet can't help sharing her continued distaste for her unapologetic slob of an ex-husband who, Eva slowly comes to realize, is none other than her new love, Albert. How these confidences affect Eva and what she says — and doesn't say — about them is this film's provocative central dynamic.
One of the pleasures of "Enough Said" is watching Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini, two well-known performers only Holofcener would think of putting together, come alive both as individuals and the two halves of a relationship.
As fans of Jennifer Aniston's work in "Friends With Money" will testify, one of the director's gifts is for normalizing stars and making them credible as ordinary people. Louis-Dreyfus beautifully handles the role of a woman prone to saying too much or too little, and Gandolfini, in his final starring role (he died in June at age 51), matches her stride for stride. It is a performance whose combination of sensitivity and strength underlines exactly why he will be so missed.
As all this is going on, Eva also has to cope with her uncertain relationship with her departing daughter. That's complicated by her increasing closeness with her daughter's best friend Chloe — played in an affecting acting debut by celebrated teen fashionista Tavi Gevinson — who adds a nice touch of offbeat ordinariness to the role.
Moviegoers in Los Angeles will be able to recognize numerous Westside locations, including Lilly's (now closed), Elyse Walker and Santa Monica's scenic palisades. People everywhere, however, will connect to expertly rendered dilemmas and situations that could not be more universal.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, some thematic material and brief language
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: At ArcLight, Hollywood; Landmark, West Los AngelesCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun