Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a forty-something divorced masseuse in Southern California who lives with her college-bound daughter Ellen and gossips with her best friend Sarah (Toni Collette), a local therapist with a penchant for neurotic behavior. Their chitchat usually centers on marriages that were and marriages that are, cellulite, and the adolescent crises of their (well-adjusted) kids. Eva is kind, often awkward, and a good mother. She’s also impressionable and insecure.
Enter Albert (James Gandolfini), an overweight film historian she meets by chance at party in which they both agree they find no one attractive. Chattering Eva begins dating portly, world-weary Albert, which would be all well and good — and charming — if she wasn’t also busy massaging Albert’s ex-wife Marianne (Catherine Keener), a New Age poet (her latest book is titled “Beautiful Fruit”) who can’t stop talking about her ex-husband’s shortcomings. For a while, no one’s the wiser, and Eva keeps mum to satisfy both curiosity and doubt.
Writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s tender but mischievously melancholy film is about affection, misunderstanding, parental anxiety, and how men and women can behave as misfit teenagers well into middle age. The strength of the story isn’t that love conquers all, which you know it will, but in its willingness to examine wistful, bumbling adults in search of what they think they never had, or never had enough of: love. Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini, in one of his final roles, possess uncoachable genuineness. They are as well-suited and believable as misfit romantic leads can be. To him, she’s a breath of fresh air; to her, he’s a man lacking in pretenses — if only she weren’t so afraid of making the same mistake, marriage, twice.
On a date, Eva complains that a restaurant has turned up the music. “No,” replies plain-talking Albert, “you just got older.” Eva, her reading glasses firmly planted, and Albert, his paunch abundant, are just that: older. But at the heart of everything, and heart here is everything, they’re also wiser. Keener and Collette ably support the bravura of the leads in a story that is honest and mature enough to make you ignore the maudlin.