Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"'Enough Said' And the Necessity Of Contrivance"

We recently saw a movie called Enough Said, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener.  As is not unusual in our case, I liked it better than my spouse and companion who, in my view, harbors unreachable standards in movies.

Nicole Holofcener populates her films with identifiable people, emanating for the most part from the economically-comfortable stratum of American demography.  In plain English, they are not that different from me. 

Think:  “Smarter Judd Apatow”, and you’ll have nailed the style, taste and tone of Holofcener’s movies pretty much dead center.

The titles of her movies – Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing, Please Give, Friends With Money – say “I am am not going for artifice here.  This is it, take it or leave it. 

And that’s why I have always enjoyed Holofcener’s movies.  More successfully than most writers, Holofcener offers her hyper-observant impression of the world sees around her.  If, as I once heard, comedy is reality plus ten percent, though Holocener’s comedies may nudge the needle to fifteen percent, they are light years away from the high-concept nauseations I have in the past decade or two been unhappily subjected to. 

So, Enough Said.

At a party, a massage therapist forties-ish woman (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) meets a bearded, somewhat hefty guy (played by James Gandolfini) where their mutual disdain for humanity draws them instantly together.  At the same party, Louis-Dreyfus is introduced to a woman (played by Catherine Keener) who will soon become her client and, rapidly, her confidante and friend.

The three of them are divorced, all, though especially the Keener and Gandolfini characters, harboring still-smoldering grievances against their exes. Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus begin a relationship.

And away we go. 

To this point, the movie, for me, is virtually perfect.  The casting is dead on, or, with an supersized Gandolfini as “Leading Man” – borderline courageous.  The dialogue is funny and insightful, invariably reaching past the punchline for an unexpected “topper.”

Example:  (Warning:  It’s a little “below the belt.”)

When Louis-Dreyfus arrives at Gandolfini’s house for brunch, she finds him still in his pajamas, which he explains by saying he likes to be comfortable on the weekend.  While eating and bantering, Dreyfus suddenly interrupts the flow to say, “I can see your penis.”  An obviously embarrassed Gandolfini leaps up from the table, and races off to change.  In most movies, that’s where the “funny part” would end.  But not this one.  Before exiting, Gandolfini turns back, and in a clear reference to his insinuating male part inquires, “So what do you think?” 

The movie, especially early on, is replete with such moments.  Not just funny characters, but funny characters with a sense of humor who know how to get in the last comedic jab.

And then…something happens.  For want of a more accurate descriptive, I shall call it “the plot.”

As it turns out – are you ready for this? – the Gandolfini character and the Keener are each others’ aforementioned exes, meaning he’s the one Keener’s been badmouthing every time she and Louis-Dreyfus get together, and, though with lesser intensity, vice a-versa.  Louis-Dreyfus, fearing losing her newly-acquired boyfriend and/or her newly acquired gal-pal, chooses to remain silent about this coincidence. 

And away we continue.


Enter – a farce.  Exit – my enthusiasm for the movie. 

“A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband, and comedic high-jinx ensue.” 

That’s all well and good, but what happened to the movie I was enjoying?

Could this situation actually happen in real life?  I suppose.  But this is a movie.  The writer deliberately made this happen.  That’s different.  Plus, after Holofcener delivers this coincidence, she exploits it for an hour by having the Louis-Dreyfus character not in short order announce, “Guys, I gotta tell you something.” 

As the writer, Holofcener has a right to her creative decisions.  But I have to you tell you, I’m not having fun anymore.

Don’t I like farce?  (Which, I believe, is a line from “Send In The Clowns.”)  Sure, when it’s skillfully handled, and announced as its intention.  One of my favorite plays of all time is Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.  I remember the first time I read it…

Not now.   It’s getting long.

Sorry.  Just notice the subtitle of Wilde’s meta-farcical excursion:  “A Trivial Comedy For Serious People.”  He’s telling you right in the title – or just slightly below it – “This play is wall-to-wall foolishness.” 

By contrast, Holofcener dumps a massive slab of coincidental contrivance into a screenplay that is, to that point, documentarily believable.  That’s… let me cool down here before I say “outrageous”… okay.  That’s…

Extremely disappointing.

Isn’t it?

Years ago, my daughter Anna and I went to a Writers’ Guild-hosted event where Nicole Holofcener was speaking.  During the “letdown” portion of Enough Said, I imagined myself at a similar gathering, asking this question, when the time came for “Questions From the Audience”:

“I was wondering, is there any way this movie could have been satisfactorily written without the ‘coincidence’ in it?  And as a follow-up, given the ‘coincidence’, is there any way this movie could have been satisfactorily written without the Julia Louis-Dreyfus character keeping it a secret for so long?”

I once saw a movie called Gregory’s Girl (1981) which played out its endearingly-human relationship story naturalistically and humorously and entertainingly and without contrivance.  So I know it can be done.  What I don’t know is if it can be done more often than once every thirty-two years.

And yet I keep hoping.

Any thoughts on the matter?
And then there's this.  I really like this boy.  Happy Birthday, Mr. Two!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In defense of Nicole Holofcener:

Let me cut straight to the chase......

Fox Searchlight=the Necessity of Contrivance!

I'm surprised that equation eluded you