It should go without saying that romantic comedies are generally more enjoyable if you enter them with already-fond feelings for their leads, which is why it was more fun to sit through, say, one of Tom Hanks' and Meg Ryan's 1990s outings than the ugly one that transpired, in 2009, between Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. But until writer/director Nicole Holefcener's Enough Said - which finally landed locally at Moline's Nova 6 Cinemas two months after its original nationwide release - I'm not sure I'd ever seen a rom-com with quite this much built-in goodwill before. Then again, no one until Holefcener had designed a rom-com for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini before, either.
Enough Said casts Louis-Dreyfus (in, amazingly, her first big-screen, non-animated film role since 1997's Deconstructing Harry) as Eva, a not-unhappily-divorced masseuse with a successful career, good friends, and a daughter ready to leave for college. Gandolfini is Albert, a less-happily-divorced film preservationist with his own teen daughter about to leave the nest. The two meet at a party, share a few pleasantries, and meet for a date. The date goes well. They enjoy more dates, all of them filled with laughter, and some of them ending in sleepovers. They begin to fall in love. And that's when Eva accidentally discovers that Albert is actually the ex-husband of her client and close friend Marianne (Catherine Keener), a bohemian poet who has spent the many weeks of her acquaintance with Eva complaining about the lazy, sloppy, tic-ridden dolt she was married to.
If you're now hearing that familiar echo of "WA-A-A-wa-a-a-a-a!!!" ringing in your ears - the sound of a contrived sit-com character faced with an equally contrived farcical situation - I completely understand; on paper, the film would seem to be just the sort of high-concept, low-I.Q. outing that has led many of us to positively dread modern romantic comedies. I'm thrilled to report, however, that Enough Said is nothing like the pat, artificial, generically feel-good trifle its concept may suggest. In truth, in its low-key way, the movie is just about flawless. Holofcener's latest - and, in my opinion, the best yet from the gifted indie filmmaker behind Friends with Money and Please Give - has the nerve to ask, "What if this improbable plot development actually happened to a real person?" And by populating her work entirely with figures who, in both voice and action, are recognizably flawed and recognizably heroic, she creates something truly magical here: a rom-com that transcends its frequently fraudulent genre and feels like 100 minutes spent in the welcome company of actual, flesh-and-blood humans.
With Enough Said, enough can't be said about Holofcener's exquisite attention to character detail and the precise, knowing economy of her dialogue; not a single line - and her terrifically witty script is oftentimes hilarious to the extreme - feels the slightest bit untrue, and everyone we meet appears to be behaving according to their specific personalities, and not merely the whims of the screenwriter. Though relative sidebars to the film's central romance, Eva's emotionally complex relationships with her daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) and Ellen's clingy best friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson) are fraught with wholly believable mother-daughter (and "mother"-"daughter") dynamics that are funny and touching and occasionally upsetting. And in her banter with a pair of bickering married friends played by the wonderful Toni Collette and Ben Falcone, we fully comprehend both Eva's longing for a new romantic attachment and her happy relief at not having one - at least, not that specific one.
But ultimately, it's the flaky, tender, playful, loving chemistry that ignites, and that is sustained, between Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini that makes Enough Said such a continual, nearly overwhelming pleasure. Though she's one of the sharpest comediennes the medium of TV has ever known, Louis-Dreyfus so rarely gets the opportunity to appear genuinely relaxed - to not be so consistently "on" - that her beautiful portrayal is nothing less than revelatory; watching Eva's subtly heartbroken reactions to Albert's disappointment, or Ellen's spiraling resentment, makes you regret the many years of potential Louis-Dreyfus screen performances we've been deprived of. As for Gandolfini, he may always be remembered as Tony Soprano, but his work for Holofcener reminds you of the exquisite breadth of the man's talents: his gracious, humble, endearing, and captivatingly real turn here is an easy highlight in a career practically teeming with them. This valedictory movie may have landed in our area two months late, but in many ways, the timing of its pre-holiday arrival is also close to perfect. Again and again, Enough Said provides viewers with more than enough reasons to be thankful.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
I really wish I could say that director Jean-Marc Vellée's Dallas Buyers Club was as strong as Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are in it, because sweet Lord, would that be something. The film tells the true story of full-time electrician and part-time bull rider Ron Woodroof, a chronic drinker, smoker, and vitriolic homophobe who contracted AIDS in 1985 and began selling, through an illegal, $400-a-month club, experimental and unapproved (by the FDA) drugs to fellow victims of the disease. It's a tale that could have been told for maximum, potentially unearned sentiment, and to its credit, Vellée's movie rarely goes soft. The expected, weepy violins on the soundtrack are kept to a minimum, and Woodroof, as evoked in McConaughey's impassioned, nearly feral performance, remains much the same cantankerous bastard at the end that he is at the beginning. But while Dallas Buyers Club, with its welcome rough edges, isn't traditionally "Hollywood," the original script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, unfortunately, is, and, after a smart opening hour, it eventually succumbs to too many disease-movie-of-the-week trappings. Characters such as Jennifer Garner's sympathetic doctor begin behaving in narratively mandated ways that don't feel true (matters aren't helped by Garner not being a remotely believable doctor), the seemingly ill-educated Woodroof too quickly morphs into a knowledgeable activist, and the film indulges in one hoary, AIDS-drama cliché it maybe should've avoided: the one in which a mean-spirited straight man becomes humanized through his slow, burgeoning friendship with a tragic gay man.
Still, when McConaughey and Leto (who plays the aforementioned tragic gay man - a sweet transvestite named Rayon) are as splendid as they are here, shying away from the film really shouldn't be an option. Continuing his almost ridiculous recent run of spectacular, alternately seedy and earthy portrayals, McConaughey may have officially, finally, erased all memory of his grim rom-com days from the recent past. Employing a guttural drawl that sometimes turns even his most blunt declarations into insinuating, half-heard whispers, and with a ferocious gaze as powerful as his anger, McConaughey - shockingly gaunt here - makes Ron Woodroof repellent, pitiable, charming, terrifying, and utterly unforgettable. Leto, meanwhile, takes what could have been a lazy, if well-meaning, caricature and fashions a fragile, deeply felt portrait of a beaten soul trying to remain hopeful in a hopeless situation; Rayon's wistful smile and streak of randy humor lighten the movie's load, and in every single scene with Leto, you're grateful that he's around. (This is true even during the scene in which Rayon, looking badly uncomfortable in a men's suit, visits his estranged father, and Leto achieves a heartbreaking intimacy that he's never before approached on-screen.) Dallas Buyers Club is disappointing and too traditional for its own good. It also, probably, shouldn't be missed.
While watching, a couple of days ago, the hateful spectacle of writer/director Ken Scott's Delivery Man - a nauseatingly sentimental, laugh-free "comedy" about a former serial sperm donor who discovers, 19 years after the fact, that he's unwittingly sired 533 children - I was already thinking about the many hundreds of words I'd eventually employ to bemoan its unrelenting badness. But considering just how depressed I still am by Vince Vaughn's grossly uncommitted performance, and the weirdly glossed-over narrative details (just how did this scenario transpire, exactly?), and the utter ickiness of Vaughn's character acting as self-appointed "guardian angel" to his unsuspecting spawn, and the film's odious waste of second banana Chris Pratt, and its abject stupidity in treating this farcical subject matter seriously, and its bizarre refusal to introduce us to even one of the mothers of those 533 children, I'll restrict my overall impression to just two words, or, rather, one word used twice: Abort! Abort!