By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
There's an unintended ache to this movie, a feeling of loss in a story of middle-aged people finding themselves. It's the first new James Gandolfini performance since his death of heart failure in June, far removed from his Tony Soprano toughness, making the case that even better work was ahead of him.
The role of Albert in Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said is closer to who the man was, and who the actor seldom got the chance to play: bearish yet soft-spoken, a self-confessed slob with a soul bigger than his gut. There's warmth pouring from those slitted eyes, loosening up guarded smiles as Albert takes a chance on love again.
Her name is Eva, a divorced masseuse and soon-to-be empty nester, played with uptight aplomb by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, delightful in her first live-action movie role since 1997. Compounding the sorrow of missing Gandolfini in the future is considering how many Louis-Dreyfus movie performances we've missed while she was helping to redefine TV sitcoms.
Albert and Eva meet at a party, connecting with things they have in common like college-age daughters and strained relations with their ex-spouses. Holofcener's script, like all her movies, is frank about what men and women fear about aging and each other. Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus wonderfully enact this awkwardness, each expecting the next thing they say will be the deal breaker. This feels like a romance with a lot at stake.
There's a sitcom coincidence crucial to the plot that Holofcener and her actors can't entirely charm into credibility: Albert's ex-wife Marianne (Catherine Keener) is Eva's new client and friend, always speaking badly of her former husband, but neither woman realizes they're dishing about the same man. They finally get wise, and the results play out more honestly than the stall tactics.
Enough Said would be an appealing rom-com even without tragedy's intrusion. After Gandolfini's death, the chance to witness talent he was just realizing himself makes it a must-see for his fans. There's an ache, but it's strangely joyful, watching an artist perform like he might never get the chance again.