Kind of an Ugly Crowd

Enough Said (2013)

Enough Said (2013) | Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Enough Said, a quiet, charming romantic comedy, is also the most stressful movie ever committed to film. Starring my parents, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, and written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, subject of the greatest New Yorker profile of all time, the movie follows divorced massage therapist Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) as she prepares for her only daughter to move away for college and enters into a sweet, lowkey relationship with Albert (Gandolfini), a divorced television archivist who’s also preparing for his only daughter to move away for college. At the same time, Eva befriends her new client, Marianne (Catherine Keener), a respected poet—and, as Eva slowly pieces together, Albert’s ex-wife. 

Instead of coming clean with either her new love or her new friend, Eva keeps pursuing both relationships as if nothing has changed or will change. But, of course, it does; she stealthily pries Marianne for intel on Albert, then tries to fix the flaws that Marianne has drawn her attention to, which chips away at her relationship with Albert. It’s an act of brazen self-sabotage, one that warps the movie into a race to see whether Eva’s inevitable confession or continued secrecy will sabotage the romance first, a race that only grows more nerve-wracking as she and Albert continue to build a relationship on untenable terms. 

A plot that hinges on precariously withheld information isn’t exactly an innovation in the rom-com genre—see Nick’s extravagant wealth in Crazy Rich Asians, the bets that set How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and She’s All That in motion, the unsettling and vaguely Freudian financial transaction at the core of Failure to Launch, and Jude Law’s climactic confession of being daddy in The Holiday. But the central secret of Enough Said doesn’t shape any will they/won’t they tension; we’re well into They Will territory by the time it emerges (which only makes it more stressful). Nor is it a means to force its characters to grow beyond their boundaries—both parties remain profoundly set in their ways—or even to deconstruct the notion of the deal-breaker in a broader sense. Instead, it uses Eva’s massive lie of omission as a way to dissect the fear of being revealed as impossibly flawed and hideously unlovable. You know, just your average everyday fundamental existential horror of being a person who tries to cultivate any kind of closeness to others! Normal charming romcom content!

The first thing the film establishes is that Eva experiences the very real service-profession problem of feeling that others only value her insofar as she’s useful to them. Which is fair, given that her massage clients don’t seem to conceptualize her as a human being who exists outside their needs. One talks nonstop about her problems without so much as a “how are you;” another simply watches as she drags her table up his long, narrow staircase, never extending an offer to help. As Eva’s best friend’s husband (Ben Falcone) points out, she quietly suffers these indignities, never volunteering information about herself or asking for assistance. That desire to be seen without having to assert herself in any revelatory way bleeds into other areas of Eva’s life; a lowkey neediness structures nearly everything she does. This isn’t conveyed through the typical cinematic shorthand for women’s neediness: she’s not cloying or demanding, and she doesn’t subject those around her to absurd loyalty tests.

But she’s nonetheless desperate for any kind of human connection, anything that would allow her to stave off loneliness—but only up to the point where she’d put herself at risk of getting hurt. She cultivates closeness with her daughter’s best friend (Tavi Gevinson), who will be staying in Los Angeles, but in every conversation about her daughter’s (Tracey Fairaway) impending move to the East Coast, she stops herself at the point where platitudes and light guilting might spill over into genuine emotion. She preserves her friendship with Sarah (Toni Collette, with her real accent!) by never pushing back on Sarah’s uncomfortable tendency to treat her husband and her housekeeper (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes) as little more than receptacles for her feelings of inadequacy. 

Eva’s desire for companionship at the cost of tremendous self-suppression is, however, in conflict with her overarching lack of a filter. In lower-stakes situations, Eva simply cannot resist the urge to say exactly what she’s thinking—with cringe-worthy results. When she first meets Marianne at a stuffy bougie cocktail party, she responds to her earnest “I’m a poet” with a sarcastic “and I’m a dreamer,” then has to scramble to recover. 

This tendency toward inappropriate honesty makes Eva’s secrecy an even more glaring transgression—and there’s an added layer of complication in that her bluntness is what draws Albert to her. Their meet-cute at the aforementioned cocktail party kicks off with her declaring she’s not attracted to anyone present and Albert conceding that it’s “kind of an ugly crowd.” Despite that, a few days later, he calls her and they go out for a first date, during which she peppers him with invasive questions and semi-dark admissions. This sets the tone for all their subsequent interactions. While they drink mimosas in his backyard, she picks at her feet in front of him; he cops to a weird complex about feet, sparked by his mother’s hideous ones. Their pillow talk consists of examining the insides of each other’s mouths for dental defects. 

There are, essentially, no boundaries between the two of them, except the one that slowly becomes the rotting core of their relationship. By the time Eva has realized the connection between her boyfriend and her new friend, she’s in deep with both of them, deep enough that it would seem fishy for her to come clean about the weird coincidence. But the longer she waits, the sketchier the inevitable confession becomes—and the more she stands to lose in her otherwise open relationship. Eva knows the secret is unsustainable from the jump, but she still tries to gain as much information as she can from Marianne. It’s an effort to game the system by “fixing” Albert, thus avoiding Marianne’s mistakes and fast-forwarding through the unsavory, risky parts of a new relationship—and an effort to strengthen her connection with Marianne. Eva isn’t using Marianne to get to Albert, or vice versa. She genuinely wants to be with him, and she genuinely wants to be her. Where Eva flounders, Marianne is infuriatingly effortless: her home looks like a Dwell spread; she claims to have no friends, but she’s recognized and admired by strangers; she chats with Joni Mitchell on the phone. If Eva can succeed in the one area Marianne seems to have failed, she’ll hit the self-esteem jackpot. 

Even outside that hypothetical achievement, being valuable to Marianne makes Eva feel valued, and so the obvious solution to the problem she faces—to be honest with both of them, and to end her friendship with Marianne—is insurmountable in the face of her insecurity and her bottomless desire for companionship. 

What makes her continued prying and continued secrecy even more pathological is that she gains nothing from it. Marianne doesn’t say anything about Albert that Albert hasn’t told Eva himself. Their accounts of his flaws are identical: he hates onions; he only knows how to cook one dish; he’s clumsy in bed; he’s uncommitted to diets, and refuses to buy bedside tables. Albert freely puts all these (minor) issues on display, as well as the fact that he’s uninterested in resolving them—which is why Eva’s initial straightforwardness was so appealing, and why her increasing evasiveness and criticism is so off-putting. 

Eva’s relentless flaw-hunting gradually weakens their bond, but what severs it is the inevitable reveal of the truth. The moment itself is deeply uncomfortable—Eva is hanging out with Marianne when Albert drops by—but the conversation that follows is brutal. “You knew what to do. You just didn’t do it,” Albert summarizes; she could have been good, but she chose not to be, which is worse than being intrinsically horrible. In trying not to hurt herself, Eva has wounded him deeply. The argument isn’t a setup for some grand romantic gesture: For months, Eva just has to marinate in her loneliness and live with what she’s done, the precise outcome she was desperate to avoid. Eventually, tentatively, she approaches the possibility of reconciliation, dropping by his house unannounced with the socially inappropriate bluntness that drew them together in the first place, now weighted with actual vulnerability: “I don’t always park in front of your house. Sometimes I just drive by.”

It’s up to the viewer to decide whether this effort to rekindle the relationship works. The film ends with Albert and Eva sitting together on the front step, laughing and smiling, but there’s no concrete hints about where they go from here. We don’t learn whether this apparent moment of forgiveness is adequate to fuel a relationship and, if so, how long it might last. Maybe they never see each other again; maybe they go the just-friends route. But I want to believe that they’re in it for the long haul, that letting this secret air out has cleared a comparatively smooth path forward for the two of them, together. It’s not that I’m particularly invested in the idea of True Love, and even if I were, this is one of the few rom-coms that definitively is not. But even though it resists shaving off the rougher edges of romance, Enough Said still presents us with a fantasy narrative about love, one that posits that vulnerability is enough to keep it going, that the worst parts of yourself won’t repel others if you’re simply honest about them—that by submitting to the mortifying ordeal of being known, we are guaranteed to become loved in the process.