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Review: Enough Said

*** ½

It's hard to imagine anyone below a certain age wanting to see Enough Said, a movie about the challenges confronting two middle-aged divorcees. Their loss, I say.

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener has made only five features in her career (although she has kept busy by helming episodes of various TV shows like Six Feet Under and Parks and Recreation), and I've been swept off my feet by all of them: 1996's Walking and Talking (Catherine Keener, Anne Heche), 2001's Lovely & Amazing (Keener, Brenda Blethyn), 2006's Friends with Money (Keener, Jennifer Aniston), 2010's Please Give (Keener, Rebecca Hall) and now Enough Said, which trumps the lot.

And yes, Keener's in this one as well, although she's not the lead: That would be Julia Louis-Dreyfus, playing the part of Eva. A masseuse by trade, Eva lives with her daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), a headstrong young woman who's about to head off to college. Dragged to a party by her best friend Sarah (Toni Collette) and Sarah's husband Will (Ben Falcone), Eva meets Albert (James Gandolfini), and while sparks aren't immediately stricken, the two do seem comfortable with each other. Eva also meets Marianne (Keener), a poet who could use a good massage but who could use a good friend even more.

Eva and Albert embark on the pivotal first date, and it goes well. Like Eva, Albert is also divorced and also has a daughter (Eve Hewson, one of Bono's kids), thus allowing them to find common ground in their "empty nest syndrome" anxieties. Soon, they're a couple, with Eva accepting the fact that this lovable bear of a man is (by his own definition) an overweight slob who's set in his ways. While dating Albert, she also spends time with Marianne, who mainly complains about her ex-husband. It turns out he was an overweight slob set in his ways, and ... well, you can probably guess where this leads. For Eva, it leads to a compromised relationship, as she tries to weigh Marianne's laundry list of gripes against the decent guy she sees before her. Unfortunately, it's often a losing battle: In but one of several humiliating moments, Eva recalls Marianne's words that Albert has trouble keeping off weight and blurts out (in front of Sarah and Will, no less) that she's going to buy him a calorie book for Christmas.

Any criticism aimed at the unlikely coincidence that Eva's new boyfriend and new girlfriend would be exes can be somewhat mitigated by the fact that, since both Albert and Marianne ran in the same circles in the past, they might still attend some of the same parties. At any rate, the plot ultimately is just a hanger on which to place Holofcener's typically engaging dialogue, a roomful of gracefully constructed characters, and a superlative turn by the late Gandolfini.

Louis-Dreyfus more than holds her own at the center of the film, of course, and Collette is reliable as ever as the type of steadfast best friend any person could ever want. There's also a winning turn by blogger starlet Tavi Gevinson as Ellen's close friend, a teen who ends up spending more time with Eva than with anyone else — much to Ellen's annoyance (in the weeks leading up to college, she understandably wants her mom to herself).

Yet it's Gandolfini who makes the biggest impression — and it goes beyond the poignant fact that this marks his penultimate screen appearance. Gandolfini was obviously best known for The Sopranos, yet I always took pleasure in the indelible supporting parts he tackled in such films as Get Shorty, The Mexican, Violet & Daisy and In the Loop. Here, he's given a rare lead role in a movie and nails the assignment, using his sensitive eyes and lumbering frame to convey the feelings of a man who's more vulnerable than anyone realizes.