Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

22 December 2013

Enough Said and Moments of Realism

I really loved Enough Said.

My friend George and I have been talking recently about reality (or maybe realism?) in films. There is, often, very little of it. My friend and I were speaking about The Way Way Back and The Spectacular Now, mostly unsure about how to talk about how we thought the films got to something that seemed real in some kind of way. These things are difficult to pinpoint. Films tend to be glossy and heavily scripted, and they almost always star an actor or actress that I know at least from reputation. I buy into the movies, usually, and I don't worry too much about whether or not the movie is real. Whether or not it is real doesn't matter to me, actually, because it's a movie and I am watching it for reasons other than realism. Art, incidentally, (and this should be rather obvious) doesn't need to be real to address something powerful or meaningful.

Enough Said's plot reads to me as obviously constructed. It's a romantic comedy, and it works exactly like a standard romantic comedy ought to work. Girl meets boy, girl and boy get along for a while, girl and boy have a break-up, and then either girl and boy get back together at the end or girl finds someone new. Enough Said doesn't mess with this mold at all, but that doesn't stop it from having some amazingly real moments.

This is a romantic comedy about people in their forties. The romance is difficult because dating at that age comes with a lot of baggage. The jokes are funny because they understand something about the banality of getting old, the frustration of dealing with high-school-age kids, the panic of trying to find "the one" again. All of these things approach a kind of realness of situation, or the way life really works.

But the most real thing in this movie is the relationship at its center. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini have the most amazing chemistry. They are both so funny and perfect together, and their first kiss is so amazingly real and honest that my laughter moved from laughing at the situation to the kind of shocked laughter that comes when you can't believe that something is happening. These performances are some of the best of the year. For me, this is great acting: no histrionics; no big fight scenes; no rivers of tears; just simple behavior, the realness of everyday.

When Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money (which I liked very much) came out, Kenneth Turan called her the Jane Austen of Los Angeles, a title I love and one that fits perfectly (except that I like Holofcener a lot more than I ever liked Jane Austen). But Enough Said works instead like a kind of feminist Angeleno, Woody Allen comedy. In fact, this movie combines the Austenian qualities – the keen observation of the daily lives of middle-class white folks, the difficulties of relationships – with Woody Allen at his best – good jokes, great relationships, broad farce – but focuses on a middle-aged woman from Los Angeles trying to find love again while her daughter leaves for college. This is lovable stuff and very funny.