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'Living Out Loud': This Is Living?

By Michael O'Sullivan
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
My mistake. I thought the movie was called "Laughing Out Loud." Turns out I couldn't have been more wrong.

I should have guessed the directorial debut from acclaimed screenwriter Richard LaGravenese was not going to be funny – despite the promotional campaign pitching it as a yuk-fest. It's described in the press material as an "adult comedy," often code for "Sominex."

I did harbor a hope that, funny or not, it might actually be . . . good. It's got the great Holly Hunter and the reliable Danny DeVito. And LaGravenese is not only the Academy Award-nominated writer of "The Fisher King" and the skillful adapter who transformed the schmaltzy "The Bridges of Madison County" and "The Horse Whisperer" into palatable dramas, but a co-writer of the amazing "Beloved." Lesson No. 1: A movie camera is a little more complicated an appliance than a word processor.

What little grace there is in "Living Out Loud" (and there isn't much) is all in LaGravenese's script, not on the screen. The tale of depressed divorcee Judith (Hunter) and her liberating relationship with Pat (DeVito), the elevator operator in her Upper East Side Manhattan co-op, is so statically shot that it looks like cinematographer John Bailey fell asleep halfway through the production and never woke up.

Aside from an early sequence in which the camera orbits around the imposing physique of Liz Bailey (Queen Latifah), a lounge singer who inexplicably befriends our heroine, the film is extensively composed of tight two-shots of Hunter and DeVito shooting the breeze, intercut with even more claustrophobic close-ups of the gabby protagonists.

Furthermore, for some reason Hunter's pretty, honey-colored tresses have been disguised with an unflattering peroxide 'do that makes the actress look whorish.

Perhaps it has something to do with the character: We're told she's repressed, so maybe the dye job is symbolic of hiding her light under a bushel. Who knows? I nearly scratched my head bald trying to figure out what this jumble of badly photographed, abruptly edited vignettes leading to nowhere was all about.

After getting dumped by her cardiologist husband (Martin Donovan), Judith goes into a funk. (Actually, from what we see, even in flashbacks, it looks as if she was always in a funk, so I guess she's grown funkier.) Then some guy in a bar (Elias Koteas) kisses her by mistake; she pays for a sexy massage from another guy in skimpy underpants (Eddie Cibrian); and torch singer Bailey takes her to a lesbian bar. All the while, her acquaintance with Pat hovers between drinking buddies and lovers.

Sprinkled in the middle of this stagnant stew are scenes of Judith, who is a nurse, tending an elderly patient who has nothing to do with anything. Then a couple of 20-second micro-scenelets come along showing her trying to hock a gold ring and, later, unpacking picture frames. These pointless episodes seem to have been inserted to show that she has a job but is running out of money and has to move, but they don't contribute to the forward momentum of the plot. Neither do the flat daydreaming sequences that are indistinguishable in tone from the rest of the dull film.

At one point, the on-screen title "several months later" appears out of nowhere. It's a device that's often used as a narrative cop-out, but even late in the game here, you can't help thinking it would have come in handy earlier to plug holes in the Swiss-cheesey story.

Occasionally, I have to resist the temptation to give away a film's ending. That's not a problem here, since I don't pretend to understand its limp conclusion myself.

All of a sudden, it was like LaGravenese ran out of film. I waited in the darkened room for another reel to be loaded, then I blinked my eyes and wondered where I had been for the last hour and a half.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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