Was it good for you, too? Gandolfini, left, Louis-Dreyfus
It’s hard enough launching into a relationship when you’re in your twenties and, despite whatever insecurities you have, you look great in a bathing suit and you’re not carrying emotional battle scars from anyone’s long-term relationship except, possibly, that of your parents.
So that’s what makes Nicole Holofcener’s midlife love and loss dramedy set in Los Angeles so touching: here are these two single parents — Albert (James Gandolfini) and Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) circling around dating each other and then testing the waters of sexual and emotional intimacy as their only daughters slink through the summer before they head East to college.
From the minute Eva meets Albert at a party, they are a study in contrast. She’s slim and petite and he’s massive. Can he pull the charm card and win her into his bed? Is it worth the effort on either of their parts?
When they give sex a try, we see a lot of Gandolfini. He’s hefty — and it’s no prosthetic. If he were a woman, they would call it “a brave performance.”
One thing Holofcener’s characters do is discuss their weight and its management in sharp, funny, revealing contemporary dialog in a way that echoes how we speak now. In a later sexual encounter, when Eva flinches, Albert asks her if he crushes her when he’s on top. (Well, yeah, but she doesn’t yet know him well enough to say anything).
When the pair takes a test run outside of the bedroom and goes for dinner at the house of Eva’s best friends, she drunkenly jokes that she’s going to get him a calorie-counting book as a gift. Not only is it a buzzkill topping off the end of a less-than-wonderful evening, but he drops her off at her own house that night. It’s the beginning of the end of a chapter in their relationship.
In vino veritas
Eva has her own weight issues, too, although to look at her you would never know. At a send-off dinner for her daughter with her ex-husband and his current younger, skinny wife, Eva chastises him for ordering another bread basket. Her issue is that he will order more carbs, and she will overeat them. He does. And she does. He sees her lack of willpower in the face of bread (or cookies or cake) as a self-control issue and, besides, they’re no longer married. Her issues are no longer his responsibility.
When I saw Albert and Eva in bed for the first time on screen, still talking, teasing and trying for a natural rhythm beyond their inhibitions, I had one of those moments where real life overlaps with fiction. I saw Jim as an accident waiting to happen on the far side of fifty. He wasn’t pleasantly plump, he was sweatpants fat, on his way to Honey Boo Boo’s Mom Season One.
Gandolfini died of a heart attack at age 51 in Rome last June. We all have our times (my favorite uncle died of a heart attack at 50 in Van Nuys) but that seems way too soon for anybody, and so way too soon for Gandolfini.
Sitting across from Louis-Dreyfus at her suite in The Fairmont Royal York on Front Street in Toronto, I circled around a question that had pushed itself forward while watching the movie: “It felt hard to me,” I said, “to see Jim’s character talking about weight. I mean you and I — we all talk about weight, as women. But that kind of weight, that then contributed, possibly to his unhealthy premature end, it’s scary. It reminds you how short life is.”
“It does,” said Louis-Dreyfus cautiously. “And it’s –yeah, I don’t even know how to comment on that.”
It wasn’t the Gentle Giant answer that Louis-Dreyfus had been giving but, perhaps, it was closer to the truth. A dead silence where a joke or a reminiscence once fit.
I’ve lost so many people recently to cancer, and old age, and stubborn bad habits in the past eighteen months that what I really wanted to do, watching Gandolfini’s joy in comedy and romance in “Enough Said,” is nag and say: would it kill you to eat a salad?
Too little, too late. Would it kill me?