Wednesday 1 September 2021

Movie Review: Living Out Loud (1998)

A romantic comedy-drama, Living Out Loud explores middle-aged loneliness and regrets. Alternating between morose and humorous, the film settles for the vagaries of middle ground.

In New York City, Judith (Holly Hunter) discovers her husband Robert (Martin Donovan), a celebrated surgeon, cheating with a younger doctor. They divorce, and Judith, a trained nurse, plunges into loneliness, now wealthy but single. 

Pat (Danny DeVito) is the elevator operator in her building. He is divorced and has just lost his daughter to cancer. He is also a gambler and having trouble repaying his debts. His brother Philly (Richard Schiff) runs a bar, but Pat is too proud to accept working as a bartender.

In a surreal encounter, Judith shares a kiss with a mysterious man (Elias Koteas) she bumps into at the nightclub where Liz Bailey (Queen Latifah) performs. She also starts a friendship with Pat. He quickly gets attached and seeks a romance; but Judith is not sure what she wants.

Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, Living Out Loud is more cerebral than the typical romantic comedy. This an exploration of life's cross-roads for two disappointed adults, where the mistakes of the past are undeniable and the future unclear. Potential love and pursuits of lust are part of the agenda, but only as accessories to overwhelming self-doubt.

LaGravenese does not aim for easy answers or quick resolutions. Judith and Pat will only stumble their way out of the doldrums, and in fact may have trouble even defining what they want next. And accepting the uncertainty is part of the journey, especially for Judith. Beset by anxieties, questioning who she is and how she got here, and still capable of irrational eruptions in ex-husband Robert's presence, Judith's step one is getting re-acquainted with herself.

And her quest finds a highlight through the friendship with nightclub singer Liz, who convinces Judith to join her at an all-female after-hours club. In a fluid and frisky sequence, Judith takes the first steps of the rest of her life on the dance floor.

DeVito co-produced and his role is less interesting. Pat is good at talking about getting things done but most effective at gambling away his money. He is far from a good fit for Judith, but oblivious to the gap between them. Thanks to her pragmatism their romance never gets going, which is a realistic outcome but also detrimental to the film.

Stylistically LaGravenese sprinkles brief imaginary scenes from Judith's frazzled head into the structure, slyly casting doubt on what is real and what is not. When the objective is to push life's big reset button, fantasies are part of the process.

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