I had avoided this James Gandolfini movie for several weeks because I had the idea that it wasn’t very good. Something about the advertising turned me off, and that it was his last film made me suspicious of the beatific reviews.
I liked James Gandolfini. I’ve never been a gangster guy, so I never watched “The Sopranos”. I always figured him for one of the great character actors who got supremely lucky to find a role that really allowed him to shine and was amazingly popular. But he showed great range in The Last Castle and Killing Them Softly, even if his role was pointless in the latter.
Here, he’s less Soprano-y than ever, as he’s a kind of lovable doof, a good man with a passion but modest ambitions, a 50-year-old showing all his age but still a bit of a romantic at heart.
Yeah, we have a romantic comedy for 50-year-olds here. Which also made me a bit suspicious. Is this the tail end of the Boomer generation lamenting its agedness or a new crop of narcissists coming to the fore? I wondered.
Actually, though, it’s good. It’s really good. A little melancholy, in the way aging is melancholy. But kind of optimistic in its unflinching look at the lives of people who have entered middle-age divorced and self-absorbed.
Wait, is that even possible?
Well, you be the judge. The lead here is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a masseuse who travels around the streets of L.A. with her table, catering to a bunch of people who don’t seem to have jobs. And whom, frankly, she doesn’t seem to like much, because they’re all so freaking self-absorbed.
So, yeah, pretty accurate take on Los Angeles in 2013.
Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) is dragged to a party by married couple friends Sarah and Will (played by Toni Colette and Ben Falcone) where she meets a woman she quickly comes to idolize, Marianne (Catherine Keener), and a guy, Albert (Gandolfini) to whom she flatly states the unattractiveness of everyone at the party.
Anyway, Eva is a single (divorced) mother, as is Marianne, as Albert is a divorced dad, and their relationships to their ex-spouses is contrasted with the frayed relationship of Sarah and Will. And all their relationships with their children who are, themselves, starting to date and move away from home.
Louis-Dreyfus is perfect for the role here as she can be very, very awful and still be kind of sympathetic, like things have just gotten away from her. In fact, you could imagine this role having been written for her. Though it has a personal feel that makes me think writer/director Nicole Holofcener experienced a lot of this stuff firsthand.
It’s a good script, too. Funny, smart, and human. Also kind, where our views on characters can flip very suddenly based on something they do or say—an unexpected tenderness or expression of genuine feeling.
In the romcom genre, we have to assume the two are going to get together but this also has kind of an “indie” feel which means it can go any way, and even the way it does resolve isn’t entirely dispositive. Part of this is that while Eva’s character arc is really strong, the enormity of her crimes would pretty much kill any relationship.
That’s kind of a funny realization to have in a romcom, by the way. The Wacky Misunderstanding is the staple of RCs, and (pre-Nora Ephron, anyway) has to be shared or at least provoked by some misunderstanding of human nature or something to mitigate it. (Or it can be glibly dismissed, a la Jewtopia.)
Eva’s just awful. She has a weakness that causes her to exploit her circumstances in an absolutely devastating fashion. And her character completes her growth arc in a manner that Albert cannot possibly be aware of. That leaves him to be a saint or a sap to even consider taking her back.
Well, maybe the ending is dispositive but I had trouble viewing it that way because of that aspect of the film. Really the only weakness in the movie, perhaps necessitated by the structure of romantic comedies themselves.
OK, it’s a pretty serious flaw. It relies heavily on the audience’s sentimentality toward the two to even suggest the plausibility that they might get back together.
I didn’t care that much, though, at the time.
The Boy really, really liked it, though, which is interesting, since he isn’t at all the target audience. I chalk that up to the basic humor and pace of the script, and the fine acting all around.