Writer/director Nicole Holofcener can write a sharp script. Her film Please Give was great. Unfortunately, this movie veers down that sitcom path. If you looked at the premise on paper you’d ask yourself, “Was this a rejected episode of Three’s Company?”
Yet here’s the great thing with a good writer. They can write funny lines; and when you’re doing a romantic comedy, that’s needed. Yes, there’s a bit of romance as well.
The late James Gandolfini gives a poignant performance as a guy that’s at piece with his middle age. Many will be surprised that this character is such a teddy bear compared to Tony Soprano. It’s unfortunate that most people missed better performances by him in last years Not Fade Away and Welcome to the Rileys a few years before that.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the love interest – a single mom working as a masseuse, who can’t find any good looking men at a party (in a line that feels a lot like Costanza and Seinfeld talking about the ugly women at the DMV). Her daughter is about to leave for college, and she seems to be latching on to her, her friends, and a married couple played convincingly by Toni Collette (Sixth Sense) and Ben “Mr. Melissa McCarthy” Falcone. He has a lot of great zingers and fantastic facial expressions.
The usually reliable Catherine Keener plays an odd character. She’s a rich, hippy-dippy poet, who is thoroughly unlikable. She complains non-stop about her ex-husband – James Gandolfini. She complains about not having friends, even though Joni Mitchell calls to praise her, and she’s recognized on the street by fans. There also should’ve been a scene showing why Gandolfini would’ve liked her! There also needed to be a scene showing us why Dreyfus would gravitate towards her (aside from getting the skinny on her chubby new boyfriend).
Now, some might find Dreyfus’ character was mean as well. I disagree. She might bluntly say “He’s fat,” but she’s talking to friends. Isn’t that how we talk to our friends? We don’t need to sugar coat things. We can say, “There’s nobody good looking at this party,” or “I gave the most disgusting client a massage today.”
It’s fun to watch their first date, where Gandolfini really wins her over. He’s warm and witty. When you’re middle aged, that’s often enough for people. A woman might still want a cocky James Franco, but she’ll settle for a self-deprecating James Gandolfini.
The conversations they have about their daughters leaving them for college, their previous relationships…it all works. That’s what makes it so frustrating that they have this idiotic subplot where Dreyfus is friends with his ex-wife, without anybody knowing it. That means you’ll get scenes where she jumps and hides in the bushes when the daughter comes home (since she had met her while on a date with her dad).
It’s also a completely unbelievable premise. Why not just have these characters say the interesting things that Holofcener is so talented at writing?
Yet as much as I can complain about that premise, it does give us the interesting scenario of Keener’s words starting to poison their relationship. Dreyfus is now being irritated by the same things Keener had previously pointed out. If there would’ve just been another way to get to that, it would’ve worked better. Perhaps Dreyfus could be giving a massage to Keener’s best friend, who keeps the phone on speaker and Dreyfus hears all the gripes about the ex.
There’s good chemistry between all the characters, but they’re all a bit one-dimensional.
It was also hard to laugh at many of the fat jokes. A few were mean-spirited, but mostly it’s because – he died of a heart attack! I’m guessing a wacky John Candy movie wouldn’t have been funny a few months after he died of a heart attack.
There’s a joke about Gandolfini not being able to whisper that is great because I’ve been accused of that…and it reminds people to shut up while they’re at a movie. Ironically, during this screening, a person talking on a cell phone was being yelled at by a patron nearby. It was the patron yelling at the nitwit who got thrown out of the movie.
This material is lightweight, but good enough to get 3 stars out of 5.