In what would turn out to be the last gasp of brick-and-mortar music retail, indie record shops of the 1990s had to deal with a certain kind of customer.
"I need you to open this so I can hear it. Uh, wait — where's your listening station?"
If there was no promo on hand to play — a disc that everyone in the building would then get to hear, all together — this demanding little person would usually flee, empty-handed. The headphones-and-CD-player listening station having been an enabler not of positive decisiveness but of overstimulation and confusion and inaction.
People being forever on the lookout for a reason, any reason, not to commit to something.
And that's just when whatever is up for grabs doesn't eat your food, share your bed and use your toilet, doesn't criticize you or triage a bad date on the drive home or break up with you in the kitchen. With people — with a person, with a mate — making up your mind is a process. It involves weighing an accumulation of data against various gut-level reactions. It is not easy. And that's just when the facts or the intuitions swirling through your second-guessing echo chamber of a brain nag at you in your own voice.
Enough Said, the nearly perfect new movie by writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking, Friends With Money, Please Give), illustrates the hazards of letting someone else give voice to hesitations that usually remain interior and inchoate. (She also reminds you, in a hold-your-breath awkward but very funny sequence, how fast couple get-togethers can become star chambers for prosecuting petty grievances.)
Single parents Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini) meet at a party. They begin dating. But at the same party, Eva has also met a new friend, Marianne — who she soon figures out is Albert's ex-wife, and whose complaints about him are vitriolic but not necessarily unfounded. Head-shake-inducing quirks — those peculiar habits and tilts of worldview that movies and TV insist we embrace in our partners — can easily enough curdle into teeth-grinding horrors. Surely people have sought divorce for offenses slighter than Albert's mouthwash hoarding.
As an engine for romantic comedy (with a side of bittersweet drama, thanks to Eva's and Albert's daughters), Holofcener's conceit is smart and well-executed. Enough Said is, beat by beat, an exceptionally funny movie. But as a way to unite Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini, both gifted, the device is singular. The two actors do things — amusing things and sad things and quiet things — we haven't seen from them before. That we won't see more of these things from Gandolfini, who died this summer, gives Enough Said some of its resonance.
But that real grief doesn't weigh the movie down. Enough Said comes by its poignancy and its grace honestly (and from the start — watch Gandolfini's eyes during the party scene, the way they register possibility and the potential for heartbreak in the same instant).
Perhaps the only unbelievable note is that Eva waits as long as she does to find that stash of mouthwash under Albert's sink. She would have snooped much sooner, we know. Then again, maybe she was already trying to break herself of so much second-guessing, all that wondering just where people who have started over are supposed to put the latecomers to their lives, let alone their abandoned bathroom products. Drawers get full, mismatched items are easily spotted, and there seems to be a lot at stake in staying organized. Not everything fits, though. Not everything should.