Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 33 min.
Our Advisories (1-10): Violence 0; Language 3; Sex-Nudity 4.
Our star rating (1-5): 3
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has given us a delightful comedy/drama that reminded me a bit of the old romantic film Marty, in that the hero Albert (James Gandolfini) is not at all the typical Hollywood leading man. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a middle-aged divorced masseuse with a teenaged daughter named Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), discovers other than physical reasons to be drawn to him. Indeed, like so many romantic films, their first meeting at a party is anything but propitious. When they are introduced, and she comments that there is no one there who attracts her, he says that is the case for him too, and they move on, neither expecting to see the other again. At the same party she meets Marianne (Catherine Keener), a published poet who is interested in her services.
When Eva meets Albert again, she is more receptive to his personal warmth, and they both have daughters preparing to leave for college. Their first date, with both of them admitting to awkwardness at their age, is a touching sequence. As their romance blossoms, Eva also grows close to her new customer Marianne who is lonely and wants a friend. Eva enjoys her dates with Albert, while at the same time sympathizing with Marianne over her terrible experiences with her ex-husband. What a surprise it is for her during one of her massage sessions at Marianne’s home to hear Albert’s voice when Marianne is on the telephone. Later, during another massage session, she hears him as he is bringing back their daughter Tess (Eva Hewson) back (or is it to pick her up?), and the masseuse barely manages to hide amongst the patio plants to avoid an encounter.
Eva faces a dilemma because of her attraction to both parties who loathe each other. She falls into the old error that theologian Harvey Cox encapsulated so well in his once famous statement, “Not to decide is to decide.” She reveals to neither party the truth about her relationship with the other. Worse, as she listens to Marianne’s invectives against Albert, she finds herself criticizing his habits. After a supper with Eva’s married friends Sarah (Toni Collette) and Will (Ben Falcone) during which she makes a slur about his appetite and weight, the humiliated Albert says that spending time with her now is like spending time with his ex-wife. He drops her off at her home, intending to end their relationship.
Eva also is having trouble with her daughter in that she has become close to Ellen’s best friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), a girl alienated from her own parents. Chloe pours her heart out about whether or not to have sex with her boyfriend, and Eva gives some heartfelt but bad advice. (“Bad” from my perspective, not the filmmaker’s probably.) As their relationship develops, Ellen becomes hurt and jealous, even accusingly telling her mother that she bets Eva will offer Chloe her room when she goes off to college. Eva has just done that, Chloe having confided in her that she wants to leave home!
If it were not for that advice to Chloe about following her heart—”Have sex if you feel it is right”—I would recommend this wonderfully written and acted film with no reservations. There are so few romantic comedies that are aimed at an adult audience that has moved beyond the profane fart jokes and other juvenile interests of most summer comedies, that this film stands out as one of the more superior offerings of the season. This is one of those touching films in which we root for a middle-aged couple, damaged by their marital experience, nonetheless trying once more to find a relationship that is loving and fulfilling. Also, it is poignant to watch James Gandolfini in his last role, but thankfully it is a very memorable one.
A set of eight discussion questions will be included with the review in the November issue of the Visual Parables Journal.