Getting Women Right: The Subtle Power Of "Enough Said"

Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 9:18am
Getting Women Right: The Subtle Power Of "Enough Said"

Nicole Holofcener's film is funny, raw, and intimate — and it does what very few films do: it gets women right.

Commentary by:
Lily Percy (@lilmpercy),  Senior Producer for On Being
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The cast of Enough Said pose during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. From left to right, actor Tavi Gevinson, director/screenwriter Nicole Holofcener, and actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tracey Fairaway, Eve Hewson, and Catherine Keener.

Credit: Larry Busacca License: Getty Images.

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.

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Lily Percy is senior producer at On Being.

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7Reflections

This was a confusing, roller-coaster Review,....the conflation of "getting women right" and "subtlety" and "raw and intimate" made my head spin. I am a woman and I watch a lot of films AND "subtlety" is not a woman thing in my book -- it's a rare American filmmaker, male or female working with male or female actors who "gets" subtle but I suspect American audiences are not much "into" subtle and so those films aren't made....highly dramatic is often also raw and intimate....Meryl Streep's or other performances by masters of the craft succeed because they inspire us to consider universal truths or nuances of the human condition that go unnoticed in our all "too real" day to day lives. To go to the movies looking for lessons in how to love, how to be a parent, etc... Well, there's quite a bit of that going on these days and the shared space in the American village reflects the negative impact of the practice. I have to say I'm disappointed to see this kind of review connected to On Being, a program I've enjoyed and respected for many years. The mistake of this piece starts with the title -- could easily serve in a People or Cosmo or any of serveral pop magazines headline -- and continues throughout. There are actually a number of films and TV series now that offer lots of material to reflect on from a spiritual perspective. I hope you decide to abandon this kind of writing that's available widely throughout the internet and on grocery store check out stands and shoot for something more subtle, more worth of On Being.

I enjoyed this article, and look forward to watching both Enough Said and August: Osage County as well as Ms. Holofcener's other films. Maybe next time the captions could refer to the women in the photo simply as "actors" rather than "actresses". Or should it be " directoress/screenwritress Nicole Holofcener"?

Trent Gilliss's picture

A fair point, Chris. I'll update the captions from Getty Images. Thanks for calling this out.

I've loved Ms. Holofcener's previous films, and am greatly looking forward to this one. But...not having seen it yet, what I notice most from the poster is the same old double-standard of gorgeous, THIN female with chubby not-half-as-good-looking male. No big deal if we EVER saw the opposite---can you imagine this film if the descriptions were reversed? Could Megan McCarthy have played Julia's role and Clive Own played James' role? Just tired of seeing this so much.

Thank you. I've thought this for forever. Even our female movie makers do the same thing...

from the look of it...it may get white women right but hardly "women".

Good point.

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