Cecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for us in many articles over the years.

Recently, in the new movie Enough Said, Dr. Ford discovered some emotional issues worth discussing.

EnoughSaidJust when I despaired of ever seeing another wise, deep, and truly funny romantic comedy again, along comes Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said.  Not since the golden age of Nora Ephron have audiences been treated to a screenplay that portrays real adults struggling with issues that might actually hit a nerve and cause the laughter of rueful recognition.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a divorced free-lance masseuse who lives with her daughter, Ellen, in L.A. She meets Albert (James Gandolfini), the curator of a museum of classic TV, at a party. He also is divorced with a daughter, and coincidentally, both girls are leaving for college in the fall. They begin dating, though Eva is unsure about whether or not she is attracted to him.

Things go well, however. They both share the same self-deprecating, wry sense of humor. Both are down to earth, relaxed, and easy-going. She’s never had a pedicure; he has no bedside tables. They seem to “get” each other. But another odd coincidence becomes apparent: at the same party where she met Albert, Eva also met Marianne (Catherine Keener, a wonderfully natural actress), who took her card and followed up by asking her to come to her house and give her a massage. Soon she is coming often, and they become friendly. As Eva works on her, Marianne complains about her ex-husband’s bad qualities, and Eva soon realizes with horror that her new boyfriend Albert is the man Marianne is talking about.

Eva begins to doubt her positive assessment of Albert. She is impressed by Marianne, who, though a little pretentious, is smart—she’s a published poet—and warm, and she has a beautifully furnished house and fashionable clothes. Wary of being hurt after having gotten over her divorce and reconciled herself to being single, Eva reasons to her best friend, Sarah (Toni Collette, always wonderful), that hearing about Albert’s flaws is like having a review on Trip Advisor—it helps you avoid going to the wrong place because of the experience of people who have already been there.

Of course, trouble ensues. Albert begins to feel her new judgmental air, and he even says at one point, “Why do I feel like I just spent the evening with my ex-wife?” Both of them are feeling especially vulnerable to loss because of their daughters’ imminent departures, and their relationship is too young to survive this kind of stress. This is one of the universal themes that the film gets so right: any new partner will not look good when scrutinized through the lens of “What would it be like to be married to this person?” (I think of this as  “The China Pattern Syndrome.”) When you are not yet in love with someone, their flaws and quirks can be glaring and are not easily overlooked; when you’re smitten, you hardly see them. One of the keys to successful romance is allowing yourself to “take it one day at a time” until you do start to feel something for the other. When you really care for someone, you will be able to spot, but tolerate, flaws that should not be deal-breakers (the wrong shoes, anyone?).

Eva starts out this way, but Marianne’s complaints inadvertently derail the process. Meanwhile, the theme of the importance of compromise is echoed in a subplot.  Sarah and her husband, Will (Ben Falcone), have a maid who chronically fails to put things away in their proper place—e.g., she puts the hairbrush in the silverware drawer. Sarah wants to fire her, but can’t bring herself to do it, so she must learn ultimately to accept the housekeeper’s behavior. Meanwhile, she may not be entirely happy with all of Will’s traits but she sublimates her need for change by constantly rearranging her furniture, which she says “fills a hole.”

Recent neurological evidence backs up the idea that learning to tolerate the behavior of your partner is one of the keys to a successful marriage. Imaging studies in China have shown that brain scans of couples who report being happy together show less activity in the region representing a separate sense of self, and Dr. Lucy Brown, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, suggests that this may indicate that incorporating your partner into your sense of identity leads you to be less critical.

But the film makes other points about failed and successful relationships. Holofcener makes it fairly clear that the problem in the couple’s first marriages may have been that both Eva and Albert were fairly poorly matched with their original spouses. Eva’s first husband is portrayed as buttoned-up, restrained, and a bit cool and humorless—not a bad guy, but very unlike her. Similarly, throughout the movie we see examples of how different Marianne and Albert are, and, conversely, how similar he is to Eva.

Some people are not mature enough to succeed at marriage the first time around.  Sarah, a psychotherapist, says only half-joking that “we don’t learn to compromise until the second marriage.”  Everyone is imperfect, Holofcener says, but if you give the relationship time and remain open-minded, your prospective mate may grow on you (Albert’s daughter, Tess, is shown as a spoiled, insensitive brat the first time she meets Eva, but later shows real compassion).

On that note, I was dismayed that James Gandolfini, who was such an ugly, hooded-eyed character in The Sopranos, was cast as a romantic lead opposite the lovely Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It is a testament to his abilities as an actor (sadly)—as well as the movie’s theme that inner qualities shine through—that he comes off in the film as truly sexy and appealing. The two leads have sparkling chemistry on the screen, and Louis-Dreyfus, always a deft comedian, shows many layers of complex feeling beneath the quips she uses to shield herself as she negotiates her way through the dangerous journey of attachment and loss.

 

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