Living Out Loud

At first glance, “Living Out Loud” is a brash and sassy comedy about the human condition. Thanks to a literate and funny screenplay by writer-turned-director Richard LaGravenese, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Then you get in your car, go home, and it’s life as usual.

“Living Out Loud” made me smile and grin, and laugh out loud, and it even touched me on occasion. The movie is that fresh. It’s also paper thin, like rice candy, and once you’ve sucked off the outer layer, all you’re left with is a mouthful of nothing.

Still, that outer layer is mighty tasty.

LaGravenese, a screenwriter of note (“The Fisher King,” “The Bridges of Madison County”), dishes up a delicious serving of human emotions and humor. He gets excellent support from his tremendous cast, especially Holly Hunter as a recent divorcee trying to establish her own identity.

The problem with “Living Out Loud” is that it’s all warm and fuzzy. It lacks the edge that would have made these desperate characters more interesting. The character’s are interesting, but they really don’t go anywhere. They’re there to service the writer’s ego.

They say and do clever things, and even when life should be at it’s lowest, they always spring back. That’s Judith Nelson (Hunter), the human spring, whose divorce from her philandering husband (Martin Donovan, understated as usual) is blurring her sense of reality.

Judith’s line between reality and fantasy is quickly fading, allowing LaGravenese the opportunity to present both sides of Judith’s state of mind. These little fantasies are humorous, and work well within the context of the film. At first, they catch you off guard, but after the third or fourth go round, you get the idea. That makes it hard to trust the film, which is a big mistake.

It’s easy to invest in the characters. Hunter makes Judith someone you would like to get to know. A former medical student who put her career on hold while her husband pursued his dream, Judith comes with a lot of baggage, and Hunter makes a great porter. It’s a bold, brazen performance, and Hunter never flinches.

Small in stature but big in heart, Pat is the elevator operator in Judith’s upper East End New York apartment building. Pat is a swell guy, but his life is more like a tidal wave at the moment. He’s just getting over the sting of divorce when his daughter dies of cancer. He also has a gambling problem that gets the better of him.

There’s chemistry between Judith and Pat, but she and we know it’s not that kind of movie. Oh sure, there’ll be nervous sexual tension between the two, but the only sack these two are going to hit is one filled with rattlesnakes. Pat wants more from Judith, but she’s determined not to complicate her life until she discovers who she really is.

Her journey takes her to a nightclub where she meets blues singer Liz Bailey (Queen Latifah, better than she has ever been before), who becomes her confidant and companion in her quest for true love. Judith even has an anonymous encounter with a real charmer (Elias Koteas) in the alley behind the club, goes with Liz to a chic lesbian nightclub, and goes one-on-one with a super hunky masseuse.

DeVito is excellent as Pat, a perpetual dreamer who knows there has to be something better than working for his brother (the always impressive Richard Schiff) in a bar. I don’t really care for Rap music, but I really enjoy Queen Latifah in front of the camera. She’s dynamite in “Living Out Loud.” Liz Bailey is the kind of person anyone would want in their lives. She’s sassy and alive.

LaGravenese based “Living Out Loud” on two short stories by Anton Chekov, and the screenplay feels like a blend of ideas that never totally gel. The narrative is slim, only providing glimpses of the character’s lives. The time frame is non-existent. The film as a whole looks marvelous.

I especially liked the way LaGravenese opens the movie with one of those great, old-fashioned New York skyline shots. Having Queen Latifah sing over the credits is also inspired. The production design by Nelson Coates and gorgeous cinematography by John Bailey are outstanding.

“Living Out Loud” is stylish and fun, and elicits the appropriate laughs and emotions while you watch it. When it’s over, it is as memorable as an Aaron Spelling mini-series. The soundtrack stays with you, and luckily, that’s available on CD.



Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Queen Latifah, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas, and Richard Schiff in a film directed by Richard LaGravenese. Rated R. 93 Min.


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