Not that you didn’t appreciate them while they were still alive, but the fact that they’ll no longer pop up to enliven a new movie or TV show leaves a persistent sadness, not to mention being a sharp reminder that we’re none of us here forever — except on celluloid.Some actors you miss more than others when they’re gone. I’m thinking of Walter Matthau, Colleen Dewhurst, Anne Bancroft, Paul Newman and plenty more.
It’s for this exact reason that watching “Enough Said,” a marvelous new movie by writer-director Nicole Holofcener, is a bittersweet experience. That’s because it stars James Gandolfini, who gives a performance that’s touching, sweet and full of gentle grace notes.
Gandolfini, best known for playing mobster boss Tony Soprano in HBO’s “The Sopranos” (1999–2007), died much too young — he was only 51 — last June of a heart attack. As if to remind us of what we’ll be missing in his absence, in “Enough Said,” he portrays a character as different from his crime boss signature role as a sauterne is from moonshine.
His character is Albert, a big, bearded bear of a man. Albert has been divorced for four years from a woman who loathes him and is father to a spoiled, college-bound daughter (played by Eve Hewson, who is the real-life daughter of U2’s Bono). He works as an archivist at a television museum and, since losing a lovely house in chic Santa Monica to his ex in the divorce, lives in a smaller, sparsely furnished house in a lesser L.A. neighborhood.
At a party, he meets the movie’s protagonist, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a masseuse. She, too, is divorced and has a teenage daughter — hers is much nicer than Albert’s —who’s also about to go off to college. The two begin dating and find out that, in addition to sharing anxieties about becoming empty nesters, they greatly enjoy each other’s company, both in and out of bed.
The fly in the ointment? At the same party at which Eva meets Albert, she also meets and becomes friendly with his former wife, a successful poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener) who constantly carps about her ex (she hated everything from the way he picked the onions out of guacamole to his clumsiness during sex). Eva doesn’t put it together that the two were once one until she has already fallen hard for Albert.
Even then, though she knows it’s morally wrong, Eva continues to pal around with Marianne, whom she envies and admires. She rationalizes that Marianne is a “human TripAdvisor,” a personal guide to what’s good and bad — it’s all bad as far as Marianne is concerned — about her new beau. Obviously, the situation can’t last for long as it is.
The movie is funny, wistful and perfectly captures being in one’s middle years and trying to juggle romance, jobs, parenting and ex-spouses when you’re of an age that it all should be easier but never is. As with all of Holofcener’s films (“Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing,” “Friends with Money” and “Please Give”), her wholly recognizable characters have lives that are essentially privileged and comfortable, which only gives them more time to focus myopically on what’s making them so unhappy in the moment.
“Enough Said,” which opened Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles and opens wider on Sept. 27 (click here for a list of cities), is Gandolfini’s penultimate performance. There’s still one more new movie with him to come: “Animal Rescue,” a crime drama based on a Dennis Lehane novel, is due next year.
Then that will be it. His work will be finite. Thanks to the magic of DVDs, video and streaming, we can visit his great performances again and again but there’ll be no chance to see what else he might do, tearing into a new role or surprising us with an insightful reinterpretation of a classic part.
Enough said by Gandolfini? Hardly. After “Animal Rescue,” when the screen goes to black for the final time in his career, he will be greatly missed.