Dinner parties on the Westside of Los Angeles are never a simple affair. To pull off the casual elegance required of such an evening often entails hours of painstaking planning. The same can be said of a movie re-creation of such a party, where the glasses must be refilled to a particular height, the dip placed just right and the question of whether to use coasters becomes an actual dilemma.
"Would it be blasphemous if we don't use coasters?" asks Nicole Holofcener, the writer-director of "Enough Said," a new romantic comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini in one of his last roles. It's August 2012, and the 53-year old auteur is putting the final touches on a living room scene between her two stars, attending a dinner party as a new couple with friends played by Toni Collette and Ben Falcone.
FOR THE RECORD:
"Enough Said": An article about the film "Enough Said" in the Sept. 1 Calendar section said that Nicole Holofcener's 2010 film, "Please Give," was inspired by her former New York-based boyfriend buying an apartment while its elderly resident still inhabited it. The film was inspired by the experience of her current boyfriend. —
"Can I put a few napkins here in case something terrible happens?" Gandolfini wonders, worried that the fierce guacamole scooping he's about to embark on is going to turn ugly.
(Gandolfini died almost a year after the production wrapped, on June 19 of a heart attack. Speaking to The Times last month, Louis-Dreyfus said the impact of her co-star's death was "just brutal, and very, very sad." But she was cheered at the thought of audiences seeing a new side of him in "Enough Said." "He's extraordinary in it," she said. "It's a gorgeous performance.")
On set, as production assistants scurry around the bright, well-lit craftsman home, Louis-Dreyfus leans back in her seat with her wine glass and asks, "Don't you all wish we were at a real dinner party right now? Wouldn't that be fun?"
The cast seems to be having a good time even though they are drinking nothing stronger than cran-grape juice. The production, to hit theaters Sept. 20, marks Holofcener's fifth feature film and her first to look at a pending empty-nest scenario — the very situation single mom Holofcener finds herself in as she prepares to send her children off to college and contemplates what the next chapter of her life will look like.
In the film, Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a fiftysomething masseuse trudging along in her life, envious of those around her who seem like they have it all figured out. Along the way, she meets Gandolfini's Albert, a sweet, somewhat uncomplicated man. Independently of him, she also meets and befriends his ex-wife, Marianne (Holofcener regular Catherine Keener). After listening to her new friend's litany of complaints about her ex, Eva realizes she's talking about her own new love interest.
But the movie is more than the "Three's Company"-like complications that the situation would indicate. It's also an examination of middle age, the choices one makes and one's willingness to make additional mistakes to find happiness.
"She's behaving very childishly, making really bad decisions, mainly because I think she is treading water to stay afloat while this part of her life ends," said Holofcener about her main character during a break between scenes. "It's completely inspired by my own feelings and fears about what my life will be like when my kids go away."
Holofcener's films are always examinations of her own life events — or of those close to her. Her indie debut, "Walking and Talking," looked at the pending marriage of her best friend and how it would affect their friendship, while 2002's "Lovely and Amazing" used her own family as a jumping-off point to write about mixed-race adoption. "Friends With Money" in 2006 tackled women's friendships when they are in their early 40s, while the Manhattan apartment envy of 2010's "Please Give" was inspired by Holofcener's former N.Y.-based boyfriend who bought an apartment while its elderly resident still inhabited it.
The writer-director who got her start as a production assistant on Woody Allen's "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" is a bit bleary-eyed this late summer afternoon, having spent the morning rewriting the film's ending after finding inspiration in an email suggestion from Keener.
That sense of collaboration has extended to the set too. Cut to a scene of Albert extolling the virtues of Eva's bed sheets, a comment she casually dismisses. Gandolfini then says the line, "We're new, I'd like her sheets if they had little unicorns on them."
The line lands flat. Holofcener asks for suggestions from her actors. "What else would be funny?" she muses. "Something that would never be on the sheets?"
Gandolfini pauses, closes his eyes, rolls his head around his neck before settling into place. "We're new, I would like her sheets if they were covered with little Mussolinis," he says.
Perfect. Holofcener is ready to move on.
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