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Dustin Putman

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Living Out Loud (1998)
3 Stars

Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Cast: Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Queen Latifah, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas, Suzanne Shepherd, Eddie Cibrian, Rachael Leigh Cooke, Lin Shaye.
1998 – 94 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for profanity, brief nudity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 11, 1998.

"Living Out Loud," is the type of motion picture we don't often see: it is a film about mature, intelligent adults, instead of the usual American film, in which children basically dress up in grown-up clothing and parade around acting like immature seven-year-olds.

Judith (Holly Hunter), a fortysomething living in New York City, has been having a difficult time with life lately. She is extremely depressed about her recent divorce to her husband (Martin Donovan), who had been cheating on her. She cannot sleep, haunted by terrible memories, often imagines off-the-wall things to try and make the world seem like a better place, and the only place she can really go to feel happy is to hear one of her favorite singers, Liz Bailey (Queen Latifah), perform at a local club. Judith's life does start to brighten a little when, one night when she gets home to her apartment late, strikes up a conversation with the elevator operator, Pat (Danny DeVito), a lonely man in his fifties whom has lost his daughter recently. Both of them create a sort of emotional connection with each other, seeking comfort with the other person, but while Pat starts to form a deep love for her, Judith only wants to remain friends.

"Living Out Loud," which was written by Richard LaGravenese ("The Bridges of Madison County"), who is also making his directing debut here, is a wonderful film from beginning to end, one that is honest, genuinely funny, and poignant. The three central characters, that of Judith, Pat, and Liz, are all written to be free-thinking, complex human beings, and are all likable, but flawed, people who are constantly interesting, as is the film itself.

One highly original element of the film is that Judith occasionally imagines things occuring in her mind in the way she wishes they would happen. Sometimes it results in comedy, and sometimes it turns out to be subtle and truly touching. One sequence that stands out is when Judith is at a restaurant by herself, reading a novel. An older woman comes over to her, mentions that that is a great book she is reading, and then goes over to join her own friends. As the woman sits down, she looks over to see Judith by herself, and motions for her to come join them. Instantly, we realize this was simply in Judith's mind, as we see the same woman just sit down at the table and begin talking to her friends. Holly Hunter and Danny Devito both give the performances of their careers here. Hunter, of course, was brilliant in 1993's "The Piano," for which she won an Academy Award, but in this film she is even better, I think. She finds the right note for each scene and holds it. And DeVito has never had such a humanistic role before, which I was surprised about. Usually he is used as the butt of a joke, or as a caricature, but in this film, has a living-and-breathing, sympathetic person to play. Topping it all off is Latifah, also a singer, who is quickly turning into a respectable actress herself, and has a juicy, natural supporting role as, in some ways, Judith's role model. Another joy of the film is that it does not somehow form a contrived, "happy" ending, but, in staying with its realistic tone, manages to be upbeat, but truthful. The last shot is an especially powerful image. Nothing is said, but just the image of someone walking down a sidewalk says it all.

The relationship that results between Judith and Pat is true-to-life and sincere. As we watch these two people talk, and get to know each other, all that we wish for them both is to be happy, even if that does not include for them to become romantically involved. And as, "Living Out Loud," which is one of the best films of the year, proves, sometimes a friendship is the strongest bond anyone could possibly ask for.

©1998 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman