Getting Women Right: The Subtle Power Of “Enough Said”
When I was a kid, I loved drama. My favorite books, movies, and music where filled with epic, often unrequited love stories and big, heartbreaking deaths.
I swooned longingly during Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, watched in horror as James Dean yelled, “I got the bullets!” at the end of Rebel Without a Cause, and cried all throughout David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago. It’s no surprise then that my favorite film in high school was Anthony Minghella’s tragic love story, The English Patient. I saw the film nine times in the movie theater. And although I cannot for the life of me remember what a perfect participle actually is, I can quote every line from that movie word for word.
In my late 20s, something changed. Suddenly, the performances that moved me as a little girl seemed, well, melodramatic — cringe-worthy and forced, even. I found it difficult to re-watch the classic Hollywood films. And I found it harder and harder to connect with characters onscreen because what I was looking for now was more difficult to find: subtlety.
Which is why a scene in writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s latest film, Enough Said, completely floors me. It’s the moment when Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character Eva finally comes clean with James Gandolfini’s Albert and tells him the real reason that she sabotaged their relationship. “I think I was trying to protect myself,” she says.
That scene makes me cry. Not because the boy and the girl are breaking up or because the music is swelling but because the fear and vulnerability etched upon Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’ face is raw and intimate. It feels too real. And I don’t know what to do with that.
When asked by The New York Times what the trick to writing a great female character is, Ms. Holofcener responded, “Make her human.” Ms. Holofcener gets women right. She’s been making movies that center around women for years: Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing, and Please Give, just to name a few. She gets the highs and the lows that come with female friendships — how we talk to one another and how we depend on each other.
Enough Said is like a how-to-guide to womanhood. The movie tells the story of Eva, a masseuse and a single mom, who meets Albert, a recently divorced, shy, television historian. Through the development of Eva and Albert’s relationship, we learn how to be good parents, how to be good friends, and perhaps most importantly, how to be vulnerable and ask for help.
I watched Enough Said for the second time, right after watching John Wells’ much-hyped August: Osage County. The two movies couldn’t be more different. Where the characters in Enough Said are subtle and understated, August’s are loud and over-the-top, as theatrical as the Tracy Letts’ play from which the movie is adapted. August: Osage County is set in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and centers on the dysfunctional Weston family, led by the cold, angry matriarch, Violet (played by Meryl Streep). The movie belongs to Ms. Streep. Her rage surges unexpectedly in waves throughout the film, and there’s no doubt that she is, once again, delivering a powerhouse — and emotionally exhausting — performance.
But Ms. Streep’s performance is just that, a performance. It doesn’t resonate or connect, far too perfectly melodramatic to ever feel truly real. Ms. Streep will undoubtedly receive nominations for her role in August: Osage County, further cementing her status as the most nominated actor ever, but it’s Ms. Louis-Dreyfus and Ms. Holofcener that I’ll be rooting for. And even if they don’t win a Golden Globe or an Academy Award, what they accomplished in Enough Said will remain inspiring, brave, and unforgettable.