With a strikingly against-type performance from the late Gandolfini, this film gives the romantic-comedy formula a welcome adult spin. Writer-director Holofcener keeps the characters authentic even as she indulges in some rather farcical plotting. And her astutely observational dialog lets the cast members create characters who are funny, flawed and thoroughly engaging.
At a party, massage therapist Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) meets two people who become important in her life. First is Marianne (Keener), whose snappy wit and honesty make her much more than just a new client. And then there's Albert (Gandolfini), an unlikely suitor who charms Eva with his dry wit and warm camaraderie as they share common emotions about daughters (Fairaway and Hewson) who are leaving home for university. But as Marianne moans about her miserable ex-husband, Eva realises that she's talking about Albert. And she knows that if she tells them that she's made this connection, she'll lose both a friend and a boyfriend.
Holofcener takes this simple idea and stretches it nearly to the breaking point. Fortunately, the film's real strength lies in the interaction between these people, and it's easy to identify with their hesitance as they endure a series of awkward moments that feel bracingly realistic. All of the dialog bristles with humour that feels improvised, and Louis-Dreyfus has always been an expert at combining comedy with both underlying strength and fragility (see Veep). Gandolfini seems like a strange match for her, but he plays the role so beautifully that we root for them as a couple.
And along with the spiky, acerbic Keener, the film also provides scene-stealing side roles for Collette and Falcone as Eva's married best friends. They may be a bit goofy, but they add to Holofcener's relaxed, grounded atmosphere, which focusses on both organic comedy and moments of painful discomfort. In the end, the film feels a little simplistic in the way it reminds us that the path toward happiness can be rather bumpy, but the film also notes the importance of looking forward. And of remembering that the past probably wasn't as good or as bad as we think it was.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th October 2013
Box Office USA: $17.5M
Distributed by: s
Production compaines: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 158 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Producer: Stefanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman
Screenwriter: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, Catherine Keener as Marianne, James Gandolfini as Albert, Toni Collette as Sarah, Ben Falcone as Will, Amy Landecker as Debbie, Michaela Watkins as Hillary, Kathleen Rose Perkins as Fran, Toby Huss as Peter, Eve Hewson as Tess, Christopher Nicholas Smith as Hal (Massage Client) (as Chris Smith), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes as Cathy, Tracey Fairaway as Ellen, Phillip Brock as Jason, Tavi Gevinson as Chloe