Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel
LIVING  OUT   LOUD (1998) * 1/4

Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese. Photography, John Bailey. Editing, Gregory & Lynzee Klingman. Production design, Nelson Coates. Music, George Fenton. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg & Stacey Sher; released by New Line. Cast:  Holly Hunter (Judith), Danny DeVito (Pat), Queen Latifah (Liz Bailey), Martin Donovan (Bob Nelson), Elias  Koteas (the Kisser), Richard Schiff (Philly), et al.  A New Line release. 102 minutes. This film is rated R. (language, drugs, sex massage)

Q: Mr. Critic, I have some questions about this movie. Be patient with me. I have a doctorate from Europe, have been in the USA for some time and speak English pretty well. But there are a few things about American life, politics, and some movies that I can't quite understand. Some expressions too as [Editor's note: the speaker is foreign-born, therefore he uses "as" correctly, instead of "like"] when you put in your reviews words like parsimonious, avuncular, or tropism.

A: Not to worry. I have the same trouble with Finland and Turkmenistan. I promise to keep things simple. If I can't, I'll put an asterisk * for words easy to find in a dictionary.

Q: My first question is about the title that, well, confuses me. From the rather funny previews I thought it was Laughing Out  Aloud. It wasn't, and it wasn't funny either.

A: I concur (it means I agree with you). I don't get the title either, except in a very roundabout * way.

Q: How about the subject? It is clear that Holly Hunter has recently divorced after being married for 16 years to a cardiologist who must make good money. Their apartment is in an expensive co-op on Fifth Avenue. Holly is desperate. DeVito, who plays the co-op's doorman-elevator operator is sad. Long ago his wife had kicked him out. Very recently, his daughter had died. Danny likes to gamble and owes a lot of money. Those two characters may look at each other but they don't really see each other. For the man, the lady is out of his class, for the woman, he could be like a piece of indifferent furniture.

But now they get together, become friends, and DeVito falls in love with her. The chance of her reciprocating (hey, I do know some fancy words!) could be like a snowball in hell (I also know some idioms!)

I don't think that the situation is very original, except for the differences between the two characters. I remember some films with women of about 40 who suddenly found themselves alone and lonely.

A: You're doing OK. Let me add something from real life and from movies that also applies here: the cases of some medical students that marry nurses (Holly was and still is one) who work hard to help their mates, but after the man becomes a wealthy doctor, he dumps his wife for a younger woman, as in this film. The script does not go into background details, however.What it implies, you have to take on faith. And that is that Holly was defined by her husband, that Holly was not a whole person but perhaps merely became Mrs. Cardiologist. So she finds herself at loose ends, mentally, psychologically, even physically (note the sequence with the masseur, a hunk *)

Q: Right. That's why she wanders about, tries to find herself (ugh!),  gets a massage that may or may not include sex. We don't know. But aren't there more things we don't know?

A: Lots. Holly has fantasies, like a vision of her suicide. That's pretty clear. But some other fantasies are not. The main one is when she is in a bar during amateur night, looks for a bathroom, opens a door and is seized by a man who kisses her, then apologizes --he thought she was another woman, whom he was expecting. It probably did happen but it might also be a figment * of Holly's imagination.  In any case, it seems to have done her some good.

Q: How about her enthusiasm about the singer of that bar? She is played by Queen Latifah. I know that she is a rapper who now also does "regular" music. When I was young, abroad, I saw many movies that had in them what I believe you call torch singers. Here Queen Latifah (who is very good) is Liz Bailey. I bet it is a reference to Pearl Bailey (whom we adored in Europe), in style and appearance.

A: Wish I had thought of that. Latifah's somewhat modernized versions of older songs were good, yes.  Holly's enthusiasm is partly that phony cliche where non-WASPs * (think of Charlie Chan) are endowed with wisdom, even though in this case Latifah herself admits that she is none too wise in her love life.

Q: Were you interested in the non-affair between Holly and Danny? I just could not get excited by it, even though there were a few OK moments.

A: Those characters are the whole movie, and while I did sympathize with their problems, this couple is uninteresting. The movie got duller and duller. It became Sighing Out Loud as I kept looking at my watch. Even the camera-work was dull. Things became laughable when Holly took uppers (this means feel-good drugs, pills) and went to a nightclub recommended by Latifah.

Q: Was this dull too?

A: It was silly. The club turns out to be an all-lesbian place, packed wall-to-wall by women in designer * outfits, dancing like choreographed, well-rehearsed professionals! Holly takes to the floor like a veteran. Come on!

Q: There were several scenes with Holly that did not seem to add anything. Agree?

A: Absolutely. Tacked-on * tacky * stuff. Take Nurse Holly at the hospital, first with an unpleasant, older patient who berates * her equally unpleasant daughter. Pointless. Then the same lady is all dolled up * and becomes Holly's confidante. Now, if you asked the scriptwriter, he might tell you that both scenes have something to do with the fear of being left alone, especially as one ages. But they really contribute nothing to the story.

Q: Who was the scriptwriter?

A:  Well-known film writer Richard LaGravenese: The Fisher King, A Little Princess, The Mirror Has Two Faces, etc. He is the person who transformed the Harlequin-type * book The Bridges of Madison County, a sentimental weepie *, into a very nice movie. But here, in his first time as a director, his would-be moving-feminist-tract *  is a flat yawner *. It was inspired by two Anton Chekhov short stories which, to my shame, I do not know.

Q: Still, didn't you like the performances?

A: One does what one can with what one has. Not much in this case. Ms. Hunter, 40, was given make-up and colored hair that are most unflattering (there are too many closeups in any case) and cheapen her character. She repeats too many mannerisms. Her Georgia accent has sometimes been an asset, sometimes not, and sometimes was made hybrid by her trying to conceal it, as in this film. The hybrid approach does not work. Her voice--which is not the same the thing as her accent -- often grates. After the Cannes premiere of The Piano, she spoke a mile a minute * to the press, as if trying to make up for her role as a mute. She and her voice raised many eyebrows.

I admit though that at picture's end (when Holly seems vaguely ready to have a real life of her own) DeVito's singing of They Can't Take That Away From Me was quite good.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel