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Despite an idiotic plot, ‘Enough Said’ manages to be sweet and moving

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James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a tender moment from Enough Said.

Three and a half stars

Enough Said Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener. Directed by Nicole Holofcener. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

A gentle, wise comedy trapped in the body of a broad, dumb comedy, Enough Said, the fifth feature by Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing, Friends With Money), gets enough details right to compensate for its idiot plot. At a party, divorced masseuse Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) separately meets both her new boyfriend, Albert (James Gandolfini), and a new client, Marianne (Catherine Keener). Each complains bitterly to Eva about a former spouse, and it doesn’t take long before she realizes they were once married to each other. Unlike an actual human being with a functioning brain stem, however, Eva says nothing to either party, allowing Marianne to share intimate (and exclusively negative) details about her past with Albert. Ostensibly, Eva wants to ensure that she’s not making a mistake by dating him; problem is, if she decides that she isn’t, she’s guaranteed to eventually get caught. Which, of course, she finally does.

If this blatant contrivance is more frustrating than usual, it’s because everything surrounding it works so beautifully. Enough Said nails the awkwardness of middle-aged relationships and their accumulated decades of baggage, as well as the ways in which our perception of people can be altered (or “poisoned,” as Albert accurately puts it) by others. A subplot involving Eva’s daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), who’s heading off to college, and Ellen’s best friend, Chloe (Tavi Gevinson), who’s seeking a substitute mom, could fuel an incisive movie of its own. And the entire cast is superb, except when they’re being asked to do and/or react to things that make no sense whatsoever. Gandolfini, in particular, gives an immensely touching, oddly dignified/undignified performance, in a role that couldn’t be further removed from Tony Soprano. No amount of idiocy can touch him; see this movie to get a deeper sense of what we’ve lost.

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