Somewhere in the middle of the bright new comic drama Enough Said, the heroine, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), says this to her new lover just before she falls asleep: “I’m tired of being funny.” It’s not a big moment. But I felt a ripple of recognition run through the audience, especially those people who, like the characters on screen, were somewhere in the middle of their own lives, and perhaps had found that they were tired of performing and just wanted to be who they are.
Enough Said, which opens Friday, was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, who has made a career out of mining those kinds of small but true moments. In films including Please Give and Friends with Money, her characters articulate the stuff we say to ourselves in our heads. But this one is about giving those inner voices a rest for a change. While it’s as sharp-witted as her previous work, it’s also more grown up, more forgiving.
“This time of our lives is a shock because it’s ‘This is it’ time,” Holofcener, 53, said two weeks ago, when her film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. She was sitting in a hotel room chair with her legs tucked under her. She has long, wavy hair, serious eyes and a smile that ranges in size, but whose default seems to be “wry.” “You grow up thinking: ‘My life is going to be like this, and then it’s going to be like that,’” she continued. “Then you hit 50, and you think: ‘Oh. This is what it’s like, and what it’s going to be like always.’ That’s sobering and scary.”
Enough Said starts with a comic premise, but plays it straight: Eva, a divorced Los Angeles massage therapist and mother of a daughter who’s about to leave for university, is a modern-day version of the narrator from Dante’s Inferno – she’s a bit lost in the dark woods of midlife. One night at a party, she meets two people: a successful poet (Catherine Keener) and an attractive man (the late James Gandolfini, in one of his final performances). The poet looks like she’s figured life out – she has adoring fans, her house is magazine-shoot ready, and she knows what to do with chervil. The man is more of a work in progress, but he’s self-effacing and kind, and they make each other laugh.
Eva has been hurt enough to be cautious, however, so when she discovers that the poet and the man have a shared history, instead of coming clean, she mines them for information about each other. Although nobody squirms as amusingly as Louis-Dreyfus, Holofcener lets her characters’ sadness come through, too.
“At this age, I think about what’s left, and how to make the most of it,” Holofcener says. “For me, what’s most important is wanting to learn to love. People who stay together, I think, are people who’ve really learned how to love. When I got married, I don’t think I knew how properly. Not that I was married to the right person; I think I wasn’t. But I’m sure I could have done a better job.”
Holofcener and her husband have since divorced; their twin sons are 16. Now, she says, she has “this great career, this great boyfriend, this great life. But I do think we look for different things at different times. At one point, it seemed very unsexy to imagine compromising. From my point of view now, with my experience and age, it’s not. So maybe a man isn’t romantic, but he really listens well – that’s worth everything. Maybe his haircut looks goofy, but he always tells me I look pretty. The ease of being with someone who’s your best friend is also very important. That’s not settling. It’s not. But it is mature shit.” She laughs. “Nobody young wants to hear that.”
Later, at the TIFF press conference for their film, Holofcener, Louis-Dreyfus, Keener and Toni Collette, who plays Eva’s best friend, kept the ruminative mood going. Backstage, they acted like women who’ve become friends. “Do I need this scarf?” Louis-Dreyfus asked Collette.
“Let’s see,” Collette replied, lifting it up off Louis-Dreyfus’s neck and then putting it back down. They straightened each other’s hair, backed up each other’s decision to wear their glasses. When a photographer directed them, “Now try something fierce,” they said “No” in unison.
On stage, Louis-Dreyfus told the crowd of reporters: “I get where Eva is coming from. It feels familiar and authentic.” It also feels, she continued, “incredibly fortunate and fabulous to be able to do this film in the same year as Veep,” the hilarious and cutting HBO series in which she plays the U.S. vice-president. “It’s a great thrill for me to do some dramatic scenes, which I haven’t been able to do in a long time.”
“What was the last drama you did?” Keener asked.
“I mean, I did The Cherry Orchard at my all-girls high school,” Louis-Dreyfus answered, eliciting a big laugh.
“It’s crazy to me that Julia, with all her success, hasn’t been offered more films,” Holofcener pointed out. “I mean, Jim Carrey was instantly in movies.”
For Keener, Enough Said is about “this phase of life, passages and things breaking up, whether good or bad,” she said. “Your grandparents have passed on, your parents are older. It’s a lot of contemplative shit. It’s also beautiful.”
“It’s a lot of letting go,” Collette said.
Of course, Gandolfini’s absence cast a long shadow over the panel. His sudden death last summer, at age 51, rocked friends and fans alike. When Holofcener’s simple dedication “For Jim” appeared in the credits at the gala screening, she and her actors teared up.
At the presser, they reminisced about Gandolfini’s cheekiness and charm; they called him sweet, sensitive, emotional, shy. “I think he wanted a part like this, and came to it with a lot of seriousness,” Holofcener said. “He was also a clown, in the best way. He improvised. I think he was kind of scared of this one,” pointing to Louis-Dreyfus, “and who wouldn’t be. He felt he had to match wits with her and be as fast as she is. Once he realized that everyone was appreciating who he was and what he was bringing, he would relax and be hilarious, but in his own way. We all fell in love with him.”
Louis-Dreyfus added: “It was a dream to work with him. I’ll admit, I had a couple of moments where I thought: ‘I can’t believe I’m looking into this face.’ What a face.”
Near the end of the presser, someone asked the women what they know now that they wish they had known when they were younger. As one, they let out a wistful, “Oh,” then laughed.
“I think that’s your answer,” Collette said. “I don’t think I wish I knew anything. You learn as you go. I knew what I was meant to know, and now I know other things.”
“I write about what I know,” Holofcener summed up. “I couldn’t have written this when I was 20.”
Louis-Dreyfus tried for one last joke – albeit a mature one. “I wish I’d known the value of sunscreen,” she said. “I know it’s not profound, but think of the ramifications.”