Enough Said: James Gandolfini Says GoodbyeSEnough Said was always meant to be a bittersweet comedy-drama, but the film became additionally poignant after the unexpected death of one of its stars, James Gandolfini, this summer. One of his last movies, Enough Said isn't the definitive showcase for what the 51-year-old actor could do. (That's always going to be The Sopranos.) But in his performance as Albert, the sweet love interest of the neurotic Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), he shows a different side that wasn't always on display in his career. From an objective perspective, he's quite good and lovable in the role. But considering that the actor's premature death lines up eerily well with Enough Said's exploration of aging and fleeting pleasures, it's heartbreaking.

This is the latest film from indie writer-director Nicole Holofcener, who has a special talent for lightly satirizing the well-to-do. Movies like Please Give and Friends With Money play like kinder feature-length versions of Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes, her articulate, well-observed characters delivering their well-manicured dialogue amidst plots that are never that propulsive but have enough get-up to keep things lively. Enough Said is her most mainstream offering, which for the most part turns out to be a good thing. It's accessible and broadly funny without being dumb. And even when Holofcener carts out The World's Most Annoying Plot Device, it doesn't wreck the film.

The single, divorced Eva is a Los Angeles massage therapist whose teen daughter is about to leave for college. (Seinfeld obsessives will be happy to know that Eva's ex-husband is played by Toby Huss, who was Elaine's boyfriend "The Wiz.") Anxious about being alone, she meets Albert, who is also divorced and preparing to send a daughter away to college. At first, she's not sure if she's attracted to him, but after he asks her out and they have a few dates, she realizes that while he may be a little overweight, he's a great, charming guy. But Eva starts to doubt her feelings after she realizes that he's the ex-husband of a new client, Marianne (Catherine Keener), a successful, worldly poet whose taste and sensibility Eva admires.

It's here where Holofcener carts out The World's Most Annoying Plot Device: Once Eva learns that Albert and Marianne were married, she doesn't say a word to either of them, instead peppering Marianne with questions about why she and Albert split. (Because Eva takes such stock in Marianne's opinion, she's obsessed about finding out everything that's wrong with this guy that she actually really likes.) This prolonged deception is terribly sitcom-y, and it derails what's otherwise a pretty smart and really funny romantic comedy about two grownups giving middle-aged dating a try.

Known primarily for his patriarchal role on The Sopranos, Gandolfini rarely strayed from boss/mobster/dad characters in the movies. He could be great in these, too—his portrayal of a washed-up hitman in Killing Them Softly is a gem—but his best film role may be as the voice of Carol in Where the Wild Things Are. Playing the impetuous, childlike Wild Thing, he gave the character such an unfiltered joy and enthusiasm that Carol's later disappointment and anger were all the more shocking and painful. Gandolfini spent most of his career portraying tough guys, but Where the Wild Things Are allowed that deep emotional core—that rich humanity that was mentioned in every obituary from people who knew him—to shine brightly.

That core comes through in Enough Said. Albert is a relic in several ways: He's casual and unpretentious in a city filled with poseurs, and he works as a television archivist, endlessly smitten with sitcoms from long ago. But Holofcener doesn't write him to be a sad sack, and Gandolfini doesn't play him that way. While Eva may be the more calculating of the two, Albert is no wimpy pushover: At his age, he's comfortable in his own skin and has learned what he's willing to put up with in a relationship. Enough Said has some fun at the expense of the characters' lack of coolness—they go on a date at a hip restaurant where the music's too loud—but the film mostly is a loving but insightful look at how new relationships don't get any easier as you get older, despite all the experience you think you have.

Enough Said doesn't have any startling revelations or grand wisdom to dispense, but the movie is moment to moment a pleasure because of the rapport between Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini. Holofcener's story is really about Eva having to learn to find her bearings in the buildup to her daughter's departure, but Gandolfini's death in real life adds extra heft to another, more minor theme running through the movie. As a massage therapist, Eva makes her living giving a few minutes of comfort to her L.A. clients, who are sometimes terribly self-absorbed. Grasping onto happiness when you can find it is a predominant concern in Enough Said, and there's a constant sense that the adult characters are wondering how long they can hold onto something they like. (The characters' teen children, by contrast, are so excited to go out into the world, thinking happiness is out there somewhere.) Amidst all that anxiety, Eva and Albert manage to find something that actually brings them pleasure—Eva's great misfortune is not trusting her own happiness and risking that relationship. As corny a message as it may be, Enough Said reminds us to appreciate what we have. Gandolfini's bighearted performance drives that point home every second.

Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.

Image: Sam Woolley