By Carl Kozlowski
Relationships are complicated, whether they’re romances or bromances. While there are vast differences between the feelings shared by lovers and spouses and the kind of affection that guys share as friends, the fact is a deep friendship has its own kind of inexplicable pull and can last longer than any marriage.
Of course, this also applies to the Best Friends Forever (BFF) kind of friendship found between women these days. And two new movies— Enough Said and Rush—have much to say about friendships and relationships in totally different ways.
Enough Said is the latest film from writer-director Nicole Holofcener, who has been crafting female-centric Woody Allen-style dramedies for nearly two decades, and whose last film Please Give was one of my 10 best films of 2010.
Enough Said not only features terrific performances by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini (in one of his last roles before his untimely death in June), along with Holofcener’s usual star Catherine Keener, but some of the tangiest and funniest dialogue of the year.
The story follows Eva (Louis-Dreyfus), a divorced mom of a teenage daughter who is also a massage therapist with apparently only one real friend (Toni Collette). She meets Albert (Gandolfini) at a party and finds herself drawn to his warmth and charm despite his being an overweight slob.
Meanwhile, Eva becomes friends with a new massage client named Marianne (Keener), who’s a famous poet and is always complaining about her ex-husband without naming him. Eva is fascinated by her comical horror stories until she slowly realizes that Albert has the exact same bad habits and finally realizes that he’s Marianne’s ex-husband.
But instead of owning up to her newfound knowledge with each of them, Eva hides that she has figured this out and continues mining for gossip about Albert from Marianne because she feels it will prepare her to handle any bad qualities about him. That very knowledge complicates things horribly, jeopardizing both of Eva’s new relationships.
The beauty of a film by Holofcener lies in the universal truths she uncovers from the humorous dilemmas faced by her highly specific and neurotic characters. While the central situation is a bit absurd and unlikely, she and her ace cast still cast a spell that draws you in fully and makes them wish they really knew the people onscreen.
Gandofini is particularly wonderful, playing Albert as a simple and humble man who’s been unappreciated for years yet blossoms from the attention Eva gives him. It’s a reminder that he was capable of much more than his classic turn as Tony Soprano, and he will be missed. Enough said, indeed.
Meanwhile, Rush is the latest film from Ron Howard, and it’s a stunning return to form for one of our best and most eclectic directors. From his first big directorial hit Night Shift in 1982 through his Oscar-winning work on 2001’s A Beautiful Mind, Howard seemed like he could do no wrong at the box office or with critics.
But aside from his turns as director of The DaVinci Code and its sequel Angels and Demons, Howard hasn’t connected with large audiences since Mind—and those movies were hits more due to the smash bestselling books they were based on than for their own mediocre qualities. After 2011’s comedy The Dilemma tanked, it was clear that Howard needed to shake things up or risk losing relevance.
Thankfully, he’s pulled off a winner with this rip-roaring yet expertly crafted and acted true story of the rivalry between Formula One race-car drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), who alternated as world champions throughout the 1970s while maintaining a fierce rivalry. Hunt was a high-living playboy who raced recklessly, doing whatever it took to win, while Lauda was a sober-minded tactician who won using science and statistics along with his outstanding skills at the wheel.
Rush immediately draws viewers into the action and the unbelievable tension of a sport in which an average of two out of the 25 competing drivers in Formula One die each year in accidents. It clearly shows the ups and downs of each man’s approach to racing and life as a whole, creating a fascinating portrait of the alpha-male psyche and competitive spirit while also showing that respect among rivals can be more powerful than any other relationship.
Hemsworth and Bruhl give breakthrough performances, finding great depth in what could easily have been roles filled with macho posturing. Give credit to writer Peter Morgan for that as well, building on his Oscar-winning work depicting Queen Elizabeth’s life in The Queen as he opens another often-closed world to viewers.
But it’s Howard at the wheel, regaining control of his career with a rousingly entertaining film that should have movie buffs racing to the theater.