Nicole Holofcener's bittersweet, funny comedy stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a divorced LA masseuse who is looking for an eligible man and James Gandolfini as Albert, a divorced dad. They meet at a party and start going out and it turns out that he is the ex-husband of Marianne, a new client she also meets at a party, played with her customary terrific bitchiness by Catherine Keener. The two women strike up a "friendship", as much of a mutually balanced relationship that can be had between a client and a masseuse, where Keener confides in Eva all the flaws of her ex, only for Eva to find out that he is Albert, the man she is dating.
Holofcener writes some very funny one liners and is very good with awkward situations. Behind the hilarity there is a poignant exploration of the perils of searching for love in middle age. People have too much baggage, or unrealistic expectations and in the case of Eva and Albert, ex-partners and teenage daughters that remind them how rapidly they are aging.
Louis-Dreyfus is very funny as an insecure, self-deprecating woman. Sometimes she mugs a bit too much for the camera, but she has impeccable timing and is very touching when she screws things up and things get dark. Gandolfini, in what was to be his last performance, is moving and lovely as a warm, sensitive big guy. They have an easy rapport together and inner lives, something that he exudes particularly well, that make you care for them. The excellent Toni Collette and Ben Falcone are not used to their full potential as a married couple who are Eva's best friends, but they provide a biting contrast to what Eva and Albert are looking for: A stable relationship of many years that, alas, is now strained by routine and veiled mutual contempt. What makes this movie more satisfying than a wish-fulfillment romantic comedy is that the search for love is full of pain. Nobody here is with their head in the clouds. Gone are the days of fearlessly falling in love and rushing in like fools. Now there is trepidation and anxiety and, in Eva's case, letting someone else's bitter experience cloud her instincts and worse, make her cruel in order to protect herself. Holofcener sustains the balancing act between funny and painful quite adroitly, and the movie rings true because it does not pretend that there is one endless love in life, but that life is a series of romantic adventures, some of which work, until they don't. Still, the unexpected joy of finding someone one enjoys being with is as alive and present as the funny gags and the intense fear of intimacy and commitment. In short, a realistic, funny, wise romantic comedy.
So why is Gandolfini a believable sensitive man? Because he has balls. Albert has the balls to ask Eva out. And he has the balls to want to be with her. He is the one with more to lose, more apt to be rejected with his bald pate and extra pounds in a town where everyone is obsessed with looks and fitness, yet he is relaxed and confident and brave in love.