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'Living Out Loud': Elevated Performances

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 1998

  Movie Critic

Living Out Loud
Danny DeVito and Holly Hunter play a talkative twosome. (New Line Cinema)

Richard LaGravenese
Holly Hunter;
Danny DeVito;
Queen Latifah; Martin Donovan;
Richard Schiff;
Elias Koteas;
Rachael Leigh Cook;
Lin Shaye
Running Time:
1 hour, 42 minutes
For profanity, drug use, brief nudity and erotic massage
Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito are "Living Out Loud," literally babbling their heads off in this warm but wobbly exploration of two lost souls' search for self.

This is screenwriter Richard LaGravenese's directorial debut and now that he's in charge, he finally has his chance to give dialogue and character their due. Thus, the heroine Judith (Hunter) not only talks to her friends but out loud to herself. These monologues and visions sometimes come to life, as in "Ally McBeal."

This leads to some wonderfully absurd moments, as when Judith tries to process the nightly horrors offered up on TV news. "Crack babies. What am I supposed to do with that?" she asks herself. "Should I adopt a crack baby? Then all the snooty kids in my building would make fun of my crack baby!"

But Judith's favorite subject is her husband of 16 years (unctuous Martin Donovan) who just dumped her for a younger woman. And she finds a confidant in DeVito's Pat, a late-night elevator operator at her pricey Manhattan condo. DeVito is likewise caught between floors. He's not only been dumped, but his daughter has recently died and he's into loan sharks for a wad. So he has plenty to feel sorry about, too.

As the relationship deepens, LaGravenese explores the dynamics of an ever-deepening and altogether unpredictable pairing.

The film is a savvy character study, an uplifting story of recovery, of getting past the pain, of gathering the strength to start over again. And for all of that, it should be applauded.

But when LaGravenese moves away from tete-a-tetes, he's at a loss, and the results can be absolutely absurd. He ventures into strange, unlikely and sometimes unpleasant areas – Judith's 2½-hour experiment with an erotic masseur and later, her druggy exploits at a late-night, lesbian supermodel dance club.

These and other flourishes – a re-enactment of Anton Chekhov's "The Kiss" and frequent visits to a jazz club where Queen Latifah, as a plus-size torch singer, croons tunes intended to illuminate Judith's state of mind – prevent the story, already slow enough, from gaining momentum.

The film's greatest assets, indeed its saving graces, are the performances. Hunter, enigmatic as a fragile social butterfly, also brings humor and daring to a character who might have been an irksome Upper East Sider. And DeVito, usually cast as an angry, acidic troll, surprises with a touching, nuanced, humble performance, the best of his career as this modern-day "Marty."

"Living Out Loud" is about how small things can bring vast changes – a kind word, a cup of coffee and next thing you know, you've finally arrived at your floor.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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