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Movie Review

Empty-nest comedy ‘Enough Said’ offers much to treasure

“Enough Said” prompts a moviegoer’s gratitude on any number of levels. First, there’s the Los Angeles-based writer-director Nicole Holofcener (“Friends With Money,” “Walking and Talking”) delivering her most confident character comedy to date, a work of serene informal mastery. In addition, there’s the spectacle of a movie that features actual grown-ups conversing the way actual grown-ups do — i.e., with a humbling awareness of all they do not know.

Mostly, “Enough Said” deserves our thanks for showcasing the late, great James Gandolfini in a performance of immense tenderness and charm. This is one of two films the actor had in the can when he died of a heart attack at 51 in June (the other, a crime drama called “Animal Rescue,” will be released next year). It’s one for which he deserves to be remembered.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus has the film’s lead role — Eva, a divorced LA masseuse wrestling with the singles scene and a daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), about to vanish off to college — and, again, Holofcener brings out a vulnerability you may have forgotten was in this actress after “Seinfeld” and “Veep.” Eva is winsome, smart, smart-mouthed, and more than a little heartsore, and she’s an old hand at sabotaging herself. Embarking on a relationship with Albert (Gandolfini), a rumpled single dad whose daughter (Eve Hewson, spawn of U2 singer Bono) is also heading to college, Eva can’t believe she has found someone with whom she clicks so comfortably and so well. In fact, she doesn’t believe it. Something has to be wrong.

Complicating matters is the fact that Eva’s new client, Marianne (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener), is not just a successful poet with groupies, a perfect house, and Joni Mitchell on her speed-dial. She’s — semi-spoiler alert — Albert’s ex-wife, and she’s still carrying a grudge. Keeping both parties in the dark, Eva is stuck in the middle, Albert murmuring sweet nothings in one ear and Marianne pouring poison into the other. “She’s like a human TripAdvisor,” Eva defensively tells best friend, Sarah (Toni Collette), who responds, with eminent common sense, “Albert is not a hotel.”

But Holofcener is more interested in the common nonsense with which we screw ourselves up. Why wouldn’t a once-burned woman at the turn of her 50s be wary of a man who seems so right, and why wouldn’t she jump at the chance to know what’s wrong? Marianne’s litany of gripes — Albert’s a slob, he doesn’t use a night table, he picks the onions out of his guacamole — are petty and they say more about her than him, but Eva’s too taken with her new friend to see the neuroses.

“Enough Said” tosses in a subplot involving the daughter, Ellen, who’s trying to keep her mother at arm’s length while she measures the distance between home and freshman year. Meanwhile, her friend, Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), gloms onto Eva as the kind of hip mom she wishes she had, and Eva responds with a kind of relief: Dear God, a teenage girl who wants me around! Holofcener is eerily good at the nuances of the mother-daughter bond — the body language, the neediness, the insults that sound like endearments and vice versa. The narrative threads threaten to turn forced in the home stretch, but they still add up to a portrait of a woman dangerously satisfied with the daughter she doesn’t have and dissatisfied with the man she does.

LACEY TERRELL/FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

Louis-Dreyfus with costar Catherine Keener (right).

But “Enough Said” is a comedy — of errors and eros — and if Marcelo Zarvos’s shimmery background music sounds notes of melancholy, it’s only because Holofcener knows that things are always changing. Children grow up and leave, regrets flare and fade, love turns up when you don’t look for it and hightails it when you do. The filmmaker’s gifts are, at this point in her career, just about invisible, in a good way — there’s wisdom and intent in even the most casual camera setup.

You could argue that Gandolfini doesn’t have enough screen time, but what’s there is, as they say, cherce. The scenes in which Albert and Eva get to know each other are delightful miniatures of emotional intimacy, two bruised romantics amazed to find someone still on their wavelength. I don’t think the late actor ever had another role with this little menace — even his depressive Wild Thing was wilder — so this is a chance to see a Gandolfini without shadows. Albert is a kind, funny, imperfect man, and the performance is as endearing as it is heartbreaking. Whatever Eva’s potential loss may be, it turns out to be nothing on ours.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.
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