James Gandolfini: Saying Goodbye Properly

Why low-key rom-com Enough Said is an unlikely - but fitting - tribute to the big man

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On paper, a divorcee rom-com with poignant things to say about empty-nest syndrome and starring Julia Louis Dreyfuss as a kooky masseur with an ever-present toothy grin would not necessarily be top of my cinematic hit list. Except, that is, for one very large detail. James Gandolfini.

Gandolfini died of a heart attack 10 months after shooting Enough Said, and while not officially his last film, the reality is plain: we’re running out of Jimmy time.

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I’m not going to wax lyrical about The Sopranos here (greatest TV show ever made), and start firing off wild statements like how he’s the finest actor of his generation, but rom-com or not, there really wasn’t a decision to be made. 

If ever there was a reason to put genre prejudices aside, this was it.

Ten minutes in and no sign of the big man. There’s a lot of that Julia LD smile and some wry observations on the changing nature of mother-daughter relationships. No complaints, I knew what I signed up for.

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Then he enters. The bear-like frame, the familiar fixed grin, that breathing through his nose thing he does. I cling to each exhale. It’s tense, waiting for him to make his presence felt, to dominate the screen, to shoot a glance that tells you he’s just about to lose his rag and perhaps begin beating a man with those huge bear paws.

But this is not Tony Soprano. In Enough Said, Gandolfini plays Albert, the Anti-Tony. Mild-mannered, quiet, even-tempered, yes, sweet. It’s almost as if to mock those of us who knew him for his role as the flawed Alpha male.

Of course, this is far closer to the off-screen Gandolfini anyway. “Jim was a huge guy, physically very imposing,” says Louis-Dreyfus. “Obviously everybody knows him as Tony Soprano, but the reality is that he was very much like Albert. He was very soft-spoken and earnest. All during the shoot, he kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m playing the guy who gets the girl.’ He was so self-effacing and I know he was nervous about doing something so different. That insecurity made him that much more attractive. He was very sensitive to people around him and completely without airs. I feel a deep connection to him and I miss him terribly.”

Gandolfini isn’t a textbook romantic lead. His excess weight becomes part of the storyline. It shouldn’t be believable that these two even get together but maybe that’s part of the reason you start to get sucked in. There’s a real sense of two people developing an unlikely spark before your eyes.

“I like to cast people who look real,” says writer-director Nicole Holofcener, who specialises in well-crafted comedies with a bitter-sweet edge.

And here Gandolfini is definitely real. His eyes again are the star. But instead of simmering rage, here they bely warmth and disappointment.

"A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes," recalls The Sopranos creator David Chase. "I remember telling him many times, 'You don't get it. You're like Mozart.'"

To a The Sopranos fan like me, initially the film offered little more than a chance to hang out with Gandolfini for another 90 minutes. Ultimately though, it offers proof of just how much more he had to offer and had left to do. At 51 he was just getting started.

The credits roll with a simple “For Jimmy”.