Nicole Holofcener makes movies about fairly unexceptional people in their middle-age just working things through in a slightly messy way, the kind of thing that’s apt to be overlooked, but her films — and this one in particular — have a warmth and generosity to them that’s more rewarding than a lot of other romantic comedies out there. It helps in this case that the late James Gandolfini is involved, as despite ostensibly playing against ‘type’, he is exactly the right kind of gregarious presence for this story, although most of the focus is on Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a woman who’s trying not to be in a relationship, but seems to just fall into one.
It’s not perfect by any means. There’s a rather too neat plot twist that ties in Eva’s work relationship as a masseuse to poet Marianne (Catherine Keener) with her burgeoning love interest in Gandolfini’s Albert, and the way that twist is developed feels a little bit too forced. Yet there’s still a lot that is wonderful and well-observed, little moments of characterisation that feel true to life. There’s comedy too, though this is a comedy primarily in its broad strokes and its feeling for its characters; maybe it would be fairer to say that within its comedic framework there’s a strong streak of melancholy.
A lot of the film’s success is due to the actors, and while the leads may be more familiar from television, they show a great aptitude for small gestures that show up so well on the big screen. There’s a bit of manipulativeness with the musical score, sure, and the parallel sub-plot of the leads’ respective daughters moving out of home towards college has some in-built corniness. However, I think the movement of Louis-Dreyfus’s eyebrows or Gandolfini’s watchful sideways glances hold a lot more power within the film’s context than any of the more obvious plot contrivances. Just seeing Gandolfini on screen provokes a fair bit of pathos, knowing that such an engaging screen presence is no longer around.
I fully admit I have little helpful to add to the critical commentary on this deft romantic comedy, but between its likeable lead players, it’s a welcome presence that’s both diverting and entertaining.
Director/Writer Nicole Holofcener; Cinematographer Xavier Pérez Grobet; Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Toni Collette, Catherine Keener; Length 93 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Sunday 13 October 2013.