Film Scouts Reviews

"Living Out Loud"

by Karen Jaehne

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As a blues mama Liz Bailey, Queen Latifah steals the show in this update of An Unmarried Woman. Holly Hunter is the woman evolving out of marriage, but she can't sing the blues. Because where you posit the blues, the triumph must lay in the singing of them. On the other hand, I'm not sure Holly Hunter's chitlins-crackling-in-the-frying-pan voice should be loosed on Gershwin. But who knows? We're pleasantly surprised at what Danny DeVito did with the smoothest rendition of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" since Sinatra sailed away.

Writer/director Richard LaGravenese, who bravely added some uppity qualities to the women of "The Horse Whisperer" and "Bridges of Madison County," has cooked up two great gals for a tale that is like a New Yorker cartoon: desiccated East Side white chick on her umpteenth divorce, spluttering, "How does one live out loud?" as her friend, who's sassy enough to show her how, wails "Just turn up the volume, girlfriend."

The music braids together a series of episodes about Judith Nelson, sometime nurse, getting left by her doctor husband for a younger woman. Of course, Holly Hunter plays it hip and glamorous, so it's hard to see why he left her, even though the entire motivation revolves around a line she delivers to her angry husband: "It's not your fault, Bob. I left me long before you ever did." Poor Martin Donovan has the thankless role of the tail-chasing hubby whom Judith wants to humiliate. Her revenge fails to be funny, however, because Hunter forgets she is a comedienne and goes for a realistic tone just when the movie should be moving into totally unpredictable fantasy.

Living Out Loud likes fantasy; it soars on gossamer wings through a sequence of Liz taking Judith to a lesbian nightclub, where they get down and even perform a line-dance musical number. The movie's singular problem is that, for the single woman genre, it just doesn't get far enough down. The extremes aren't there. Judith always has someone to catch her before she falls --- down.

As feminism has shaped this virtual genre, it demands despair balanced by hope, but Judith is just pissy, then calmly understanding. Judith can't even revel in the really bad girl stuff - like the beautiful body (uh, are we objectifying this guy? yes? good.) she orders up as a masseur who comes to "do this as long and as slow or as fast as you want it, wherever and however deep you want it." Just watching this gorgeous guy (Eddie Cibrian) use his hands and murmur his promises gets the women in the audience squirming for more.

More is what's needed all the way round. More of Danny DeVito's back story would balance out their relationship and justify his solo at the end. More of Queen Latifah would - well, would simply admit her phenomenal talent! These characters needed to care more about each other and less about themselves. Then they would get us to care, maybe even care enough to Live Out Louder in a reprise to see Liz Bailey sing her way through her own divorce with the Jasper's House Band, a heavy group of musicians. (For the kind of thrill found in the last Etta James, get this soundtrack!)

Clearly, LaGravenese loves jazz and is unafraid of letting a song fill up the screen. He's also got a gentle touch with actors, which makes him reluctant to edit thm and cut away some actorly business. You can often see in Holly Hunter's eyes the choices she's making, so she fails to surprise us. At the same time, she's by nature too winsome to be credible as one of those too chic, desiccated ladies-finished-lunching who haunt Manhattan watering holes.

For the same reasons, Judith's need for a relationship with the doorman is never fully mapped out. She ought to be smart enough to know he will expect more, just as we do and he does. There's a shock of truth in the scene of Judith returning to Jasper's jazz joint, only to see Pat on stage singing to a woman who seems crazy about him. It's an opportunity for her to realize she made a mistake; instead, she seems to have it already in hand, and the coping was done before the scene. Losing him is a mistake and should be an issue, because Danny DeVito is nothing if not loveable.

DeVito plays Pat with consummate working class consciousness. DeVito has the ability to make everybody proud of the working class, because the towering dignity in his tiny frame is a challenge to everybody to accept who they are - nothing more, nothing less - and make it big.

A nightmare divorcee and an elevator operator with dreams? Nothing seems to be important to Judith. What's she done in life besides marry the wrong man? She wasn't seeking independence; it was thrust upon her. It's hard to know if our heroine can succeed, because she doesn't have the kind of dreams that carry Pat along. A quick succession of images shows her "giving herself" to good causes like AIDS babies, but that's just a pile of cliches. Come on, Richard. Give the girl a noisy exit. Crank up the volume, even if it's the blues.

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