Enough Said and the Ghost of James Gandolfini
There are plenty of reasons to recommend Enough Said, but none that can help us swallow the bitter pill of James Gandolfini’s passing.
For one, there’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The Seinfeld alum gives an honest, lived-in performance as Eva, the disenchanted divorcée with few friends and a daughter about to leave the nest. With quiet charm, she offers a subdued departure from her brash, Emmy-wining turn as fictional Vice President Selina Meyer on HBO’s Veep. Now in her ’50s, Dreyfus is entering an exciting new phase in her already illustrious career. But as we watch her tap into new dramatic territory and expand her range as a comedian, we can’t help but turn our attention to Ganfolfini and a career unfinished.
There’s also the talented writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money), who takes a delicate, natural approach to a film that stubbornly defies genre classification. She lets her characters live and breathe, advancing the plot organically through conversation and behavior where contrived romantic entanglements could have easily taken over. However, through no fault of Holofcener’s, the leisurely, day-in-the-life structure lets our thoughts wander to Gandolfini and a brilliant talent fading away before our very eyes.
The plot, if you can call it that, arrives when Eva starts dating Albert (Gandolfini), an overweight television librarian, while simultaneously (and unwittingly) befriending his ex-wife Marianne (Catherine Keener), a hippie poet on a first-name basis with Joni Mitchell. Needless to say, Albert and Marianne did not part on good terms, and a dilemma with all the makings of a cliché-ridden Reese Witherspoon rom-com instead proves to be an achingly poignant look at growing old, letting children go, and falling in and out of love.
But as strong as Enough Said is, it’s impossible to avoid the elephant in the room. The ghost of James Gandolfini haunts the film; his larger than life presence has never been more potent. It’s hard to enjoy his unique and wonderful chemistry with Dreyfus, the tender glances and playful flirtation. It’s harder still to digest the front and center issue of his weight, a driving force in the narrative that contributed to Albert’s divorce and now threatens to upset his new relationship with Eva.
Gandolfini’s untimely passing last June was listed as the result of “natural causes”, but a heart attack at the age of 51 is anything but natural. It’s difficult to watch Albert’s struggle with obesity as fiction when we know that the same struggle ultimately took the actor’s life.
Coming face to face with his imposing frame only months after his death is a complex and heartbreaking encounter. His size was part of who he was, as crucial to the Tony Soprano mystique as the cigar or the bathrobe or that impish smile. To watch him with 20/20 hindsight is a crushing experience, as every comment about Albert’s weight reminds us what really killed the actor bringing him to life. As powerful as Enough Said can be, it’s Gandolfini, not Albert, who breaks our heart.
Of course, Gandolfini is famous for making the ruthless New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (a monster by all accounts) a relatable human being. This blatant criminal who murdered without batting an eye…we knew him. We understood him. The conversations he had with his wife and kids, his shrink and associates…they mirrored ours. And it was Gandolfini that made it work. We felt we knew Tony because we felt we knew James. He made it personal.
That’s why, despite his masterful ability to disappear into roles, he shines through Albert as he did Tony. When Albert reveals that his discomfort with feet stems from his mother, a flood of memories about Tony and his laundry list of mommy-issues washes over us.
When Eva makes a mean-spirited jab about buying Albert a calorie book for his birthday, we remember Tony lumbering down to his basement to use the elliptical…only to reward himself with a hefty bowl of ice cream that he savors off the top of his gut as he enjoys an old Cagney flick.
When Albert’s maligned for an odd guacamole-eating habit (using a chip to separate the onion from the avocado), we remember his late nights drinking and dining at Artie Bucco’s restaurant and the endlessly compelling way that he rearranged and stabbed at his food with his fork.
When Albert shows Eva the television library where he works, he can’t hide his pride in his profession, displaying that same gleam in the eye that Tony would get when he justified his motives to Doctor Melfi. Meanwhile, Albert’s nostalgia for the good old days of TV puts an ironic twist on Gandolfini’s instrumental role in revolutionizing a new era of quality television.
As Albert expresses his dismay with the current generation and its appetite for shows like “Real Housewives of Idiot Town”, we can practically hear Tony bemoaning the decline of the American work ethic and the withering away of the Gary Cooper figure, “the strong silent type” that Tony hoped to emulate in the most misguided of ways.
In a simplified good guy/bad guy worldview, Tony and Albert couldn’t be more different, yet it’s the strong silent type behind the characters that unites them and burns them forever in our memory. Whether he was playing the modern gangster with mental demons or the divorced father with a sweet but lonely disposition, he had the profound ability to make us care–so deeply, in fact, that we wondered if we were still watching a performance. It’s hard to know where the actor ends and the character begins.
He was truly one of a kind and it’s devastating to imagine a world without him. When Albert admits, “You broke my heart and I’m too old for that shit”, the cruel irony of the statement overwhelms us. The death of James Gandolfini broke our hearts because was he was simply too young for that shit. Enough said.
What do you think? Leave a comment.