The saddest thing about James Gandolfini’s penultimate film Enough Said is that he didn’t live to see it.
Casting him as a divorced father called Albert who connects with a masseuse and fellow divorcee called Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the bittersweet romantic comedy not only sees him giving one of his best big screen performances, it taps into a gentler, funnier and more charming side of The Sopranos star than audiences are used to seeing. “I think the character was much closer to who he was,” says writer/director Nicole Holofcener. “And I think that might have made him more vulnerable because more of himself showed.”
That, reckons Holofcener, also terrified him “in the best way” when he signed up for the film. “He wanted to do the movie right away, but I think he was anxious about how vulnerable he should be, even though it didn’t matter because Albert has more dignity than Eva does.”
She’s not kidding. When Eva discovers that the ex-husband a new client has been bad-mouthing for weeks is really Albert, she lets her neuroses and insecurities start sabotaging their obvious chemistry together. “Oh she’s an idiot,” says Holofcener, affectionately, of Eva. “She wrecks everything out of fear.”
It’s an idea, she says, that came from “having been married and thinking: if I could blow it so much before am I going to make the same mistake again?” But having carved out a niche for herself as a chronicler of modern relationships in smart, funny indie comedies such as Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing and Please Give, Holofcener – who grew up around the industry: her stepfather is Woody Allen’s producer Charles H Joffe and she counts Martin Scorsese as a former film school mentor (“He fell asleep watching one of my shorts!”) – also wanted to try her hand at something a little more commercial. Hence the romcom plotting. “I don’t know how to make a popular movie except by giving it more plot,” she deadpans. Fans of her previous films will be happy to know that her voice has survived intact, though. As has her knack for creating characters that exhibit what Pauline Kael used to describe as recognisable human behaviour. “I don’t know if I have a knack for that,” says Holofcener, modestly. “I think maybe I have a knack for casting well.” Gandolfini’s performance in Enough Said is confirmation of that. • Enough Said is in cinemas from Friday.