The basis of the story is that Eva is a single mom who is tearily getting ready to send her daughter off to college when she finds unexpected love with a surprisingly agreeable (though-she notes- fluffy) man named Albert, who she meets at a party. The spark of the drama is that she (unknowingly) knows his ex-wife, Marianne- she’s her masseuse- who decides that they are best friends, which begins an ongoing discussion about the woman’s ex-husband and Eva’s new love object. The story unfolds in the way you’d expect- Eva gets found out. But I won’t tell you how it ends! Anyway…
We learn a few basics about Eva before the drama sets in, which paint her as relatable and likable. She works as a masseuse, tending to the supple bodies of somewhat wealthier, self-involved suburbanites, each with their own annoying habit that drives her mad in a given work day. She holds her breath, shuts her mouth, and schleps around town lugging a folding massage table. She seems curious about how people with more leisure time handle their problems. Her best friend Sarah, played by Toni Collette, is a psychiatrist (“Ugh! Your red light is blinking- call me back pleeeease?”- she’s never facing the light) and mom of two who is absurdly vocal about her dissatisfaction with her marriage. Sarah’s housekeeper seems to quietly rebel against her wishes by putting things where they don’t belong (toothbrushes in kitchen drawers), but she can’t seem to fire her. She tries, but fails and rehires her, which makes actually sending her on her way twice as difficult. Meanwhile, her kids get whatever they want, and she brushes off any criticism saying she’s too tired to be a “good parent”, preferring to preoccupy herself with rearranging the living-room furniture.
Eva is surrounded by unhealthy family arrangements. Sarah belittles her husband, her own ex enjoys talking about her flaws with his new wife, and her newest friend makes dating sound like a drag, though Eva is doing just fine in that department. Ultimately, she’s stuck between her old attitude towards life, in which she finds it hard to have an opinion, and the frankness her new relationship with Albert brings about for her. Her new friend (who, hilariously, laments thrice to her about having “no friends”…) and her maybe boyfriend are opposites; she’s right in the middle, in the midst of choosing between them. Why choose, though? Well, this is one of the Big Lessons of this morality tale: don’t listen to people who are miserable like Marianne. This is the character who makes what she doesn’t want into what everyone else shouldn’t want to try out. Marianne has never been satisfied with a man in her life, and it looks like the pattern will continue. Poetry reading vegans, humorless yogis, or the man she calls a fat, clumsy, loser ex (father of her child): she likes exactly no one except her masseuse/friend and Joni Mitchell. Of course we know that Albert to Marianne is fundamentally different from Albert to Eva. Unfortunately, Eva get’s caught in the web of useless gossip and allows it to affect her perception of what she was previously enjoying very much: a love, mutual and new.
There’s another future for Eva. Albert endears himself to her over time, and she wins him over with her gloriously awkward sense of humor. They kiss on the second date after sharing an awkward moment about crusty feet and parenting blues. Their relationship is tender and realistic. They have been around the block; they’ve both been hurt and they both think they’ve recovered. They aren’t judgmental or perfectionistic, they just sought out a connection and there it was, between them. Marianne is the crux of the problem with relationships. She is the representative for things that don’t work, while Albert is a symbol of a smoother nature- one that works in love.
When it all hits the fan and Eva’s sneaky ways are exposed at an impromptu family get-together, Albert is clearly heartbroken. He feels betrayed, saying “this may sound corny, but you broke my heart and I’m too old for that shit.” When Eva tries to defend her behavior, saying that she was trying to protect herself from the heartache she experienced before, he asks an excellent question: “Why didn’t you protect us?” Something good was there…why did Eva think she had to protect herself from anything? Because Marianne didn’t like Albert? Because she got divorced before? Because BFF Sarah hates her husband but won’t leave him? A lesson for the audience and Eva, alike: the measure is what works for you.