Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Cinema File #288: "Enough Said" and "Violet And Daisy" Double Review

Pursuant to my longstanding personal obligation to seek out the final posthumous films of deceased actors, I recently sat down and watched two films produced before the death of Sopranos star James Gandolfini, but released shortly afterwards. The first was the independent romantic comedy Enough Said, co-starring Gandolfini as a divorcee who falls in love again with a masseuse played by Julia Louis Dreyfuss, who finds out that one of her new clients is coincidentally her new man's ex-wife. Its always a delicate subject whenever a movie represents the final work of someone who died, especially when they did so unexpectedly before their time, and its always a little heartbreaking when the film doesn't live up to the caliber of what we've seen before from them. Regrettably, Enough Said falls into this category.

This just doesn't feel like a story that could have ever sustained an entire movie. Its more like a sitcom plot, like a lost episode of Fraiser where he dates the ex of one of his patients, and erudite wackiness ensues. The main conflict is telegraphed from the first few minutes and from then on the whole movie is just waiting for the fallout, which based on the low key pacing you know won't be as satisfying as it is set up to be. In between we get a lot of meet-cute dating dialogue and a few plot threads involving the two leads' respective college age kids that seem wedged in to pad the running time, but none of it really builds to anything. Its sweet and heartfelt in spots, but not emotionally impactful enough to ever take advantage of it, and by the time the story predictably unfolds, its all just a pleasantly inoffensive waste of time.

Perhaps because I found Enough Said to be so lackluster, I think I may have enjoyed the second posthumous Gandolfini movie a little more than I otherwise might have. Violet and Daisy is the polar opposite of Enough Said, pulpy, violent, hyper-stylized, and almost defiantly lacking in substance, all about having fun with characters and twists that unravel if you think too hard about them. It follows two impenetrable teenage hitgirls hired to kill a mysterious man who seems to invite his own execution, leading to an off-kilter day in the life of people who live in a comic book world just slightly unlike our own. It too never really comes together, and its hard to look at it as anything more than a derivative pastiche of indie crime movies past, but it was entertaining enough that I was able to forget the uncomfortable coincidence of a deceased actor's character begging for death.

Violet And Daisy is what you would get if the filmographies of Quentin Tarrantino and Wes Anderson had a baby, and it was born just a bit prematurely. Not fully formed enough to live up to any of its influences, its easy to see the great potential that is only slightly squanders through inexperience and a fundamental lack of anything meaningful to say. It goes through the motions of saying something, and presents itself very stylishly, but comes just short of actually doing anything with what it establishes. That being said, sometimes style is enough, or at the very least, compared to some movies where I get neither style nor substance, sometimes you just have to take what you can get. For all its sugary shallowness, its almost never boring and creates an intriguing setting that I want to see more of, just with a little more development. It put me in mind of the universe of Suda51's No More Heroes, with a bit of Gunslinger Girl thrown in, which gets my nerd heart all a flutter regardless of execution.

Neither of Gandolfini's last films are anything close to perfect, and as always, one would have liked a more fitting end to his too brief career, but then that's always a function of posthumous interpretation anyway. If Sean Connery's final film can be Sir Billi, than I suppose I can live with a spate of largely unsatisfying final moments from an actor who probably deserved better. When we look back on the dead, particularly on those who entertained us so much when they were alive, invariably we self-edit, remembering the best they had to offer while forgetting the missteps in between when we can. Only the absolute best and the absolute worst tend to survive any long term examination of an artistic life, and I can't say that either of these films, or really anything Gandolfini ever did was so bad as to be immortal in its terribleness. Then again, he's still got at least one more movie coming out either this year or early next year, so who knows.
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