Enough Said is a romantic comedy, written and directed by the established independent filmmaker, Nicole Holofcener. The leads are played by James Gandolfini (who died before the movie was released) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, neither of whom, I think, had been in this kind of film before. Other roles are played by Catherine Keener and Toni Colette. The movie is understated and holds all its characters a bit at a distance. I thought its depiction of a mother’s feelings as her daughter left home for school was very nice, its observational humor of the way women and men act in their daily lives was acute and funny, and its plot engaging (in spite of a twist that you could see a mile away). I also thought it was a little more meanspirited towards almost all its characters than it needed to be, and ultimately nowhere near as original in the way it handled its resolution as it had promised.
Holofcener has been making movies for a while, and I’ve seen a couple of them: small, intimate, talky pieces about a circle of friends, many of them women, all of them educated and upper-middle class. They have a decided “indie-film” feel. That isn’t to everyone’s taste. I guessed that this movie might be riffing on the kinds of filmmaking preferred these days by younger directors, like mumblecore—but I don’t watch those directors myself, and when someone like Noah Baumbach similarly addresses current twenty-something tastes, I tend to find the result similarly creepy. I’m not someone with strong feelings about indie films; I like some of them and dislike others, and I’m not committed to independent film itself as an ideal. Maybe for this reason, I felt the material in Enough Said might have worked better in a novel than in a film. It was interesting in itself but I didn’t feel it “worked,” whatever that vague, amorphous idea might mean. The failed resolution, or lack of resolution, would have felt less absolute, I think, in print.
What was really interesting, though, was the split in reactions between the professional critics and the bloggers. The established critics all praised Enough Said as art, describing it as raising questions and depicting situations and characters rarely seen onscreen. They praised the writer/director’s accomplishment in technical and aesthetic terms, her ability to create an engaging whole that doesn’t jar or ring a false note.
The online writers pretty much all took the film as an opportunity to moralize. They attacked Holofcener for making movies about “white people problems,” like divorce, dating while middle aged, obesity, and wealth, and for depicting working characters like housekeepers only from the employers’ points of view. They took sides among the characters, asserting that the very point of the film was to condemn the Louis-Dreyfus character and defend men like Gandolfini’s. They speculated about Holofcener’s personal life journey, suggesting that they expect her future films to be more ethically uncompromised, and withholding praise for this one, as only a partial ethical success.
It would be easy to blame the Internet for this, but I doubt that’s the problem. Most people who write for sites like these, though they’re young, are the products of something very like professional training courses, in English and film departments. Presumably this is the kind of criticism they’ve always heard. Naturally, given the chance to create their own publication, this is the kind of criticism they fill it with.
Several decades ago, Umberto Eco wrote about the “open work,” a work that doesn’t provide its own interpretation, but leaves this to the reader or viewer. This was an aspect of postmodernism, and Eco believed that openness of this kind would characterize all art (except kitsch) from then on. Eco was a pretty well-known theorist, and it seems obvious that theory, as it existed in the 1990s, has seeped pretty definitively into education as it’s existed already for many years. So why didn’t these young critics read the film as an open one?