As it turns out, the late James Gandolfini, known to many as just Tony Soprano, was acting the whole time – he wasn’t actually a tough guy mobster.
In fact, “the true Jim", as Julia Louis-Dreyfus affectionately nicknames him, was more accurately depicted in Enough Said.
Apparently the intimidating Italian-American was actually “thoughtful, dear, sweet and self-deprecating in the nicest of ways” – like when he suggested that they get the “better-looking” George Clooney to play his role.
Though he doesn’t seem to have trouble with women in The Sopranos, Louis-Dreyfus mentions in multiple interviews that the true Gandolfini was much more “fall-in-loveable”.
The elephant in the room is whether or not Elaine from Seinfeld and Tony from The Sopranos can escape from their pigeonholes.
To her credit, writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Please Give, Friends with Money) addresses this right away, redefining Louis-Dreyfus as somewhat of a sad clown in the first couple of scenes.
Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) is a massage therapist who puts up with the trivial complaints of her upper-middle class patients about things like how the maid put a baseball in the kitchen drawer – an over-privileged world that Hofocener depicts with pinpoint accuracy time and again.
Eva listens to all of this with pained expressions, but gives the perfunctory reassurance that her patients are looking for.
A night out on the town
Eva attends a swanky party with her married friends Sarah (Collette) and Will (Falcone). As she socialises, Holofcener brilliantly captures her momentary tormented expression before she turns back to the conversation with a forced smile and a joke – creating the feeling that the audience knows her far better than anyone in the film does.
At this party, she meets Albert (Gandolfini) – who in a cheeky play on Big Tony’s past as an actor archives TV programmes for a living, but doesn’t like the contemporary stuff – and sparks fly.
Little does she know that a woman who she gave her business card to at the party, Marianne (Keener), happens to be Albert’s ex-wife.
As her relationship with Albert heats up, so too does her friendship with Marianne, who relentlessly criticises her “ex-husband”; eventually Eva begins to piece together the clues, but what can she do?
Elai – er, Eva
Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus are excellent together. Having both been through recent divorces, they share a less romanticised view of relationships and dating, all imperfections included. The two have an improvisational, flirty chemistry that is raw and realistic.
The only criticism would be that Louis Dreyfus has a tendency to slip out of character and default back to Elaine in all her ridiculousness, hyper-analysing insignificant social details with exaggerated gestures.
At times this works – like when she emphatically criticises how much butter Albert puts on his popcorn – but in a few instances the lighthearted humour appears at the wrong time, like someone laughing while walking into a room where a serious conversation is taking place, and takes the dramatic script off track.
And the credits roll
There is a certain sadness as the credits roll, as we see this new side of Gandolfini – one that I’m sure many would have liked to see explored in depth – fade away in what will be his second-to-last appearance on screen.
Nonetheless, he went out on a very positive and interesting note, and will always be remembered as one of the greats for his performance in The Sopranos – it’s just a shame we couldn’t have seen more of “the true Jim”.
Dir: Nicole Holofcener
US comedy, 2013, 93 mins
James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener, Ben Falcone, Toni Collette
Premiered June 26