December 6, 2013 -- A massage therapist and a television archivist have a romance that turns into a complicated mess in this comedy-drama starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, who died shortly after this film was made. He never got to see the finished film. That fact alone casts a bittersweet cast over this film, but the story is bittersweet to start with.
Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus of the “Seinfeld” TV series) is a divorced massage therapist who is dreading the departure of her daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway of “Hellraiser: Revelations”) who is heading off to college. She is suffering from empty nest syndrome so bad, she offers Ellen's soon-to-be-vacant room to Ellen's friend, Chloe (Tavi Gevinson of “The Punk Singer”). It is a strange offer that Ellen thinks is creepy, but then again, Chloe seems to be hanging around the house all the time anyway.
Eva goes to a party where she meets a charming new client for her massage business, Marianne (Catherine Keener of “Captain Phillips”). The two women hit it off right away and become friends. Marianne is a poet who has some big name friends in the entertainment business. At the same party, she also meets a big, charming man, Albert (Gandolfini). Albert's daughter is also headed off to college and Albert is also divorced.
Albert asks Eva out on a date and the two connect right away. Albert is a very funny guy, joking all the time. Eva also has a good sense of humor. They have a lot in common and soon become romantically involved. In fact, it looks like they are headed for cohabitation, if not marriage. That is the point at which everything turns into a big mess.
Eva makes a big mistake in her relationships between two of her best friends and it blows up, breaking her heart, and Albert's too. She also loses a client and a friend in this whole mess. She is forced to admit that the main reason for this emotional train wreck is that she is afraid of making a mistake like she made with her first husband. Instead, she makes a different kind of mistake.
The movie doesn't end on this sour note, but it is a major part of the film, so don't go into it thinking it is just a romantic comedy. It is a lot heavier than that. The strong point of the film is the writing by Nicole Holofcener (“Friends With Money”), who also directs this film. The dialog is smart and witty, with loads of funny one-liners and funny situations.
I had not seen much of Julia Louis-Dreyfus or James Gandolfini prior to this film. I knew their reputations from their award-winning television careers, so it was not a surprise to see them give such good performances. In addition to Keener, who is also a gifted actress, Toni Collette also gives a strong performance as Eva's friend, Sarah. This is an exceptional cast.
One other sad note in the film involves Gandolfini's weight. He is obese and the issue of his weight and his appetites are mentioned often in the film. It is obvious that Gandolfini was not healthy when this film was shot. He looked just as heavy in a previous film, “In the Loop,” (2009) an overlooked gem. The fact that Gandolfini died of a heart attack makes all those jokes about his weight a lot less funny. It also casts a different light on Eva's concerns about Albert's weight. She and Marianne were right to be concerned about that. This film rates a B.
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