Nicole Holofcener is making a career of writing and directing compelling, character-driven romantic comedies that seem to really care about the intricacies of relationships between women and other women, women and men, and parents and children. Her films feature very few of the kind of unlikely scenarios and dramatic conceits common to most romantic comedies.
When she does choose to employ a narrative convenience, it’s always in the service of the characters, and it’s used to draw out their hidden fears and foibles. Furthermore, Holofcener never allows a coincidence to resolve her stories. Resolutions come because her characters experience real growth. They overcome whatever is holding them back usually because of the intervention of another character in their lives who is also experiencing growth. Together, her characters experience revolution as the story resolves.
I cannot recommend Nicole Holofcener’s films to you highly enough. Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing, Friends With Money, Please Give, and her latest, Enough Said, are among the most satisfying and engrossing films I’ve seen. Each is about ninety minutes long, and I wish they all were longer. I hope someone at HBO is right now offering Holofcener the chance to conceive and run her own show. I would gladly spend hour after hour in the company of her characters.
Enough Said is still playing in an independent theater near you, if you’re lucky. The story concerns a couple of single, soon-to-be empty nesters who spark a relationship after a chance meeting at a party. The woman, Eva, is a masseuse, and coincidentally, a new client happens to be the ex-wife of said new romantic interest.
That narrative coincidence is one of the few Holofcener has employed over her career. In this case, she uses it to explore the trepidation one feels when entering a new relationship, and particularly the trepidation a divorcee feels given that she or he has been hurt in the past and isn’t likely to risk being hurt again. Eva is given the chance to learn her potential partner’s flaws without going through the process of getting to know them and him over time herself.
Relationships always involve risk, of course. Part of opening ones life up to the possibility that something good might happen is opening up to the possibility that something bad will happen instead. Meaningful relationships also require vulnerability – giving someone the chance to love and care for us where we are most sensitive. Love always trusts, 1 Corinthians tell us, and keeping someone at a distance so they can’t hurt you isn’t trust.
Furthermore, those we love will hurt us, and we will hurt them. We’re all sinners, and our fears and foibles are going to cause us to hurt each other from time to time. Besides always trusting, love also never fails, too. We can endure those disappointments and hurts because we are enduring in love. We are holding on to the promise that we’ll love each other better and better as the years go by.
Because we live in a culture that seems to preference the emotional storm of falling in love over the patient practice of loving another person day by day over the course of one’s life, it stands to be said again and again, true love is committed care for another. It is being there for the long haul come what may.
True love for another is also committed self-care. Holofcener’s key characters are often functionally co-dependent. They attach themselves to people who need their help, and they derive their identity from being essential to them, often enabling and encouraging the weakness that makes the care-giver essential. Her characters are masseurs, nurses, maids, adoptive parents, and maids of honor. They thrive on being needed.
In each case, Holofcener’s characters have to learn to let others live their own lives, to trust that the ones they love will still love them even if the care-givers are less obviously necessary to them. Her characters have to learn to differentiate themselves from their friends and family, know and express what they want, and live lives independent of others. Always trusting, as 1 Corinthians describes, means trusting others to love you even when they don’t have to, because, after all, they never really have to love you even when they “need” you. Real love is always a choice. It’s like water, when you try to grab it, hold it, and squeeze it, it slips through your fingers. You have to hold it loosely if you’re going to hold it at all.