Sunday, September 29, 2013

Movie Review: Enough Said

In baseball, as in most sports, if you can’t remember anything about the umpiring crew, it generally means that they called a good game.   The same goes for most aspects of moviemaking.  When the work is done well, it magically disappears.  Well conceived costumes become clothing.  Well designed sets become places.  Effective props become things.  Most importantly, characters become people, and the screenplay dissolves into what those people do and say naturally, being true to themselves as they deal with the situations life brings them.  Achieving that magic, as difficult as it is, only results in the potential for a great movie, since the situations and interactions still need to be engaging, and we must understand and care about the people.

Enough Said” succeeds in each of those aspects.

The fact that you are watching actors play roles from a screenplay falls away completely.  Instead, you are watching interesting people that you care about deal with fascinating situations.  Real life is unfolding before you.  There are laugh-at-loud moments, tear-jerking moments and awkward moments.  And they all ring true.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose comedic talent belies her significant dramatic depth,  plays Eva, a middle aged, divorced massage therapist with a daughter (Ellen, played touchingly by Tracey Fairaway) about to leave home for college.  Her married friends, Sarah and Will (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone, respectively) take her to a party where she meets both a potential client (Marianne, played by Catherine Keener) and Albert (James Gandolfini, in one of his final screen performances), who later asks around for her phone number.  For those of us who knew Mr. Gandolfini primarily as Tony Soprano, his endearing performance here showcases his versatility as an actor and exacerbates our sense of loss at his untimely passing.  The dedication that appears in the end credits is emblematic of the movie itself.  It is neither pretentious nor grandiose; just simple and heartfelt: “For Jim”.  

Eva and Albert, who has a college bound daughter of his own, hit it off on a first date that quickly evolves into a comfortable, playful relationship.  There is a quite predictable plot twist that challenges the relationship, but instead of milking it endlessly for cheap laughs the film simply allows the situation to play out in a manner true to the characters, giving us even more insight into their fears and insecurities.  There is a scene in which Eva is “caught” in a bit of a deception, and Ms. Louis-Dreyfus artfully resists the temptation to  ham it up, sitcom style, and instead reels us in with sympathy, not only because of the pain she is feeling at that moment, but also because we understand exactly why she had no choice but to place herself there.   We identify with and care about Eva, and the same goes for Albert and his reaction to the situation.  

In addition to the relationship between Eva and Albert, there are several interesting, evocative subplots involving Eva and Albert’s relationships with their daughters and their exes, Eva’s uncertain treatment of Ellen’s needy friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), Sarah and Will’s layered relationship with each other and with their maid and Eva’s daily travails at work.

In case we had forgotten, “Enough Said” emphatically reiterates that a movie can be hilarious without stooping to the laziness of gratuitous vulgarity, and can deal with sexual topics with restraint, maturity and intelligence.   The film is as satisfying as we genuinely hope Eva and Albert’s relationship will turn out to be.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Each day we make hundreds of decisions.  All of them have consequences.  And those consequences affect our lives, some more meaningfully than others.

Maybe you decide to take a certain route home from work one evening.  And that decision may result in a shorter commute, or a longer commute.  Or getting stuck in traffic.  Or an accident.  And death.   Or maybe you decide to have lunch at a certain restaurant.  And end up in the hospital from food poisoning.

Maybe you decide to work at a coffee shop for a few hours to get out of your home office for a while.  Maybe you run into someone at the coffee shop, have a wonderful conversation with her, and wind up in a meaningful relationship.  Or maybe you get mugged on the way to the coffee shop, or run over by a bus.  

We make some decisions knowing that they will deeply affect our lives.  Selecting a college.  Taking a job.  Buying a house.  Beginning a serious relationship.  But we make many others thinking that they won’t make much of a difference.  And most don’t.  But some do.  And because of the nature of those seemingly inconsequential decisions, we make them lightly, without much analysis.  Not that analysis would help anyway, since the only way ostensibly inconsequential decisions become consequential is if something totally unexpected happens.  Something that analysis would not have considered.  Like a drunk driver happening to run a red light precisely when you were crossing that particular street on your way home from work.

So we have no alternative but to accept that we will never be able to accurately predict the results of any of our decisions beforehand, whether seemingly consequential or seemingly trivial.  

But wait.  There’s more.

We also need to consider that, even with the benefit of hindsight, we will never know if any one of our decisions was “good” or “bad” within the context of our intended result.  For example, you decide to go to a certain college, and end up satisfied with the education and overall experience you got there.  So you tell yourself it was a “good” decision to select that particular college.  But you will never know what would have happened had you selected a different college.  Or elected to not attend college at all.  So you really don’t know.

Another example: you get married.  No matter how your marriage turns out, you will never know what would have happened if you didn’t marry.  Or married someone else.  Since the merits of one result may only be measured against the merits of the alternative, which is unknown, they cannot be measured.  

And so it goes.  The same applies to every single decision we make.  We know the consequences of the path we took, and we can feel satisfied, dissatisfied or indifferent about them.  But we will never know the consequences of the path we chose not to take, and in the absence of that information there is no valid conclusion.

All we can do is play the probabilities.  Hope for the best.  And not obsess about what might have been.

Monday, September 16, 2013

He Thought She Should Know

Her new profile picture hit him like a kick in the stomach.  Not because she looked absolutely gorgeous (which, of course, she did), but because she looked so much like she did in 1978.  And in 1978 she was a huge part of his life, although she probably doesn’t remember.

He arrived at his Massachusetts boarding school in January of that year, happy to be on his own but also missing his friends from home.  The infamous Blizzard of ‘78 hit New England in February. He couldn’t believe how relentlessly cold it was.  Just walking from one building on campus to another was unbearable.  He got there in the middle of the school year and, being shy by nature, spent much of his time in the company of afternoon reruns on the black-and-white TV in his dorm’s common room.  He had no complaints though.  To him, the reruns were excellent companions.

But the best (or worst) part of any of his days came after enduring a 10 minute walk in the bitter cold to the mailroom at the Main Building.   Each tiny, gold colored mailbox had a window on the bottom, so as soon as he stepped into the room a quick glance was enough to determine whether what would follow would be a freezing, empty, lonely journey back to his dorm, or the delicious excitement of knowing that a letter.  From her.  Had arrived.

He never opened the letters at the mailroom, nor as soon as he got back to his dorm.  He always kept them in his pocket for the rest of the day, wallowing in the anticipation.  Butterflies in his stomach.  

Study period was from 8 to 10pm each evening.  During study period all students were required to sit quietly at their desks.  This was when he opened her letters, because he knew he would have plenty of time to read them, re-read them, and read them again, without interruption.  

The two of them were never more than friends.  They didn’t stay in touch after high school.  They went separate ways.  They’ve only seen each other a few times, in passing, during the past 30 years.  But during the time he spent in the Massachusetts hinterland, she was, without question, the most important person in his life.  She may never understand just how precious her letters were to him, or how much joy they brought him.  But he will never forget.  As was evident when a mere glimpse of her new picture took him back 35 years.  To those magical moments when he would walk into the mailroom.  And see a letter.  From her.

Monday, September 2, 2013


From “City Slickers” (1991), written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel:

Mitch: You ever been married?

Curly: Nah.

Mitch: Ever been in love?

Curly: Once.  I was driving a herd across the panhandle.  Texas.  And, uh, passed near this little dirt farm on about sundown.  Out in the fields was this young woman, working down in the dirt.  Just then she stood up to stretch her back.  She was wearing a little cotton dress, and, ah, the setting sun was right behind her, showing the shape that God had given her.

Mitch: What happened?

Curly: I just turned around and rode away.

Mitch: Why?

Curly: I figured it wasn't gonna get any better than that.

Mitch: But you could have been, you know...with her.

Curly: I’ve been with lots of women.

Mitch: Yeah, but you know, she could have been the love of your life.

Curly: She is.

From “When Will I Be Loved”, written by Phil Everly and first recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1960, but totally appropriated by the inimitable Linda Ronstadt in 1974:

I've been cheated
Been mistreated
When will I be loved

I've been pushed down
I've been pushed 'round
When will I be loved

When I find a new man
That I want for mine
He always breaks my heart in two
It happens every time

I've been made blue
I've been lied to
When will I be loved

In my mind she works at a dirt farm in the Texas panhandle.  She owns a cotton dress.  She likes to stretch her back in the late afternoon sun.

And she will never know that the answer to her musical question is: “Always”.