the situation clearly called for me to attack him

"Living Out Loud" has no mentally ill people. It is missing the usual kooky or disease-stricken next door neighbors. It lacks cute little kids and villains with hearts of gold.

"Living Out Loud" has... divorceÚs.

In an industry strapped for quirky premises about people making friends, falling in love and getting on with their lives, "Living Out Loud" mines what is perhaps the last vestige of American culture before movies begin lurching towards normalcy, and what could have been a two hour lump of coal instead plays as one of the gems of the fall movie season.

The film opens with Upper East Siders Judith (Holly Hunter) and Robert Nelson (Martin Donovan) having a heated lunch discussion in which Judith openly accuses her husband of infidelity. The exchange goes something like this.

"No, no, you weren't nervous - you told her the joke about the three doctors."

"So what, is that our joke?"

"Fuck you."

And with that, she's off. Hunter owns this movie, carrying on lengthy inner monologues at lightning-fast speed about such subjects as crack babies and schoolyard taunting and ending up "alone and wrinkled in Queens" (the film makes great use of surround sound during these moments, with Hunter's voice coming from all corners of the theatre until it becomes a chorus, a cacophony, a thunderstorm of neuroticism), her only companion the 11 o'clock news. She tosses and turns at night while imagining jumping o ut the window and, in a divine twist of fate, landing on her ex-husband and his new wife. She eats lonely meals alone in restaurants filled with couples. She goes to a jazz club where her favorite singer, Liz Baily (Queen Latifah), performs and impulsively pours her heart out like an obsequious groupie. In a matter of seconds all of the pent-up frustration that has been building up in Judith's over-clocked mind is finally let loose. She admits to not talking to anyone in weeks. Literally.

But she does begin to talk, not only to Liz - with whom she becomes friends and goes out with quite often - but to the elevator man in her building as well. His name is Pat (Danny DeVito). A gentle man, he gambles a bit more than he should, he has an ex- wife and he misses his cancer-felled daughter like crazy. He has big plans at age 52 but he doesn't have the means to bring them to fruition. The two make an unlikely pair, but lonely people need friends, too. Their friendship grows. Do they fall in love? Do they live happily ever after?

These aren't important questions in "Living Out Loud" - what's important is that they've found each other and the courage to speak openly and honestly about themselves and their lives. Things aren't held back. Truths are told. There is no more inner mono logue. It's all finally out loud, and that's where it stays.

There are many wonderful scenes in the film, including a massive dance hall experienced while Judith and Liz drop an ecstasy-like drug that "makes you feel like touching everyone." Late in the film, Judith, mad as hell and refusing to take it anymore, fina lly sticks it to her ex just when he wants everything to look civil. Elias Koteas, who was a "Crash" victim with Hunter, has a brief cameo that acts as the trigger for Judith's metamorphosis.

The cast is superb. Hunter looks to be lining up another Oscar nomination, while DeVito and Queen Latifah (who has a gorgeous singing voice and the screen presence to match) also deliver Oscar-caliber performances. DeVito has never been warmer on screen, revealing an if not romantic leading man, then at least a tender that we'll be lucky to see more of in the future.

"Living Out Loud" is the directing debut of prolific screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, who is also responsible for writing such films as "The Horse Whisperer" and "Beloved" in addition to writing this film's script. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that this is his best effort to date, and he has clearly taken copious notes on the directors who have made his scripts. "Living Out Loud" isn't quite the striking cinematic debut of fellow first-timer Gary Ross ("Pleasantville"), but LaGravenese has a good eye and a magic pen. His plot may minimal and inconsequential, but his characters are richly drawn and very real. Besides, the lack of concrete plot is irrelevant as a result of the dazzling characterizations.

You don't need to know how "Living Out Loud" ends, because that's not important, either. It is perhaps a flawed ending, but in plot only - the characters remain true to themselves. We see only a few months in the lives of these people, but they are a good few months. And they are good people, funny people, people who have a lot to offer and are finally getting their chance. They are people we'd be glad to know. They are people who have ended their invisible existence and are whooping it up, out loud and clear.

Thu Oct 29 00:19:29 EST 1998
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