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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed/Written by: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Queen Latifah, and Martin Donovan

Here's an entertaining film (with Richard LaGravenese making his debut behind the helm), whose fine acting helps it rise above its shortcomings. Like "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," the film centers on an intelligent and feisty divorcee who suddenly has to reanalyze, readjust, and recognize that you can, in fact, start over and feel good about yourself.

The film was also written by LaGravenese, who is actually one of Hollywood's most respected screenwriters ("The Fisher King," "Unstrung Heroes," "Beloved," and "The Bridges of Madison County"). "Living Out Loud" is similar to "Bridges," as the director is once again able to utilize a strong actress (Holly Hunter) to portray the film's vigorous female lead. She is also provided with some strong support in the form of the male lead, Danny DeVito, and both actors work off each other extremely well. The film also works mainly because LaGravenese knows his audience very well. He writes sincere dramas starring strong, established women that audiences can connect to, and it's no different here.

Judith (Hunter) is a nurse in her forties who's just been handed her walking papers by a filthy rich doctor/husband after 16 years of marriage. This is a woman who really cherished the institute of marriage and felt safe by it. She's been mentally and spiritually violated by her husband's pathetic desertion. Luckily, she doesn't hit the bottle or even contemplate suicide, but she's definitely hit rock bottom emotionally as she spends her lonely week nights staring into space at a local jazz club.

Judith's in obvious pain, but she can't open up or connect to anyone since no one out there can possibly understand what she's going through -- that is until she gets to know Pat (DeVito), the doorman at the apartment building where she lives. Pat knows all about dead end scenarios. This sweet and sensitive lug's marriage is also history, he's got a serious gambling problem, and worst of all, his daughter passed away after a long-term illness. If Pat can't connect with her, no one can, and that's exactly what he does as the two help each other move on and persevere with their difficult lives.

Our headliner struggles not only with her feelings for Pat, but believing that she is still sexy. She is at a point in her life that she wants to experience romance again -- that spark with the right person. She just isn't ready to settle down with a "good listener;" she wants to be swept off her feet again. Even though the possibility exists that this may never happen again, she feels that she must give it her best shot, proving to herself that she's still attractive and important enough (despite her midlife crisis type of attitude) to elicit some responses. In the process, she discovers who she is and what is important to her in her life.

Although the fabulous Hunter, with her feisty and kooky performance, is the main reason to check out this film on video, it also gathers its strength from the tender relationship between Judith and Pat, who are able to comfort each other without getting hot and heavy under the sheets. The film shows that Judith can be satisfied by a "Three's Company" type of relationship. Just as appealing, and backing up Hunter nicely, is DeVito (who also produced the film) as Judith's steady, platonic partner. Even though the two do not get romantically involved, they still have plenty of chemistry and do a great job of satisfying each other's needs.

The film is not just a realization piece, but a quirky comedy using the comedic skills of the two pros to full effect. It's hilarious seeing Judith act out her fantasies in "Ally McBeal" type fashion. They are usually daydreams of what she would actually say or do if she had the guts. They may only be dreams, but they're outrageous all the same. Hunter's Judith is a funny (and touching) creation. She smokes like a chimney, experiments with all kinds of illegal substances, and isn't afraid to get a good rubdown from the local boy toy. She may act crazy at times, but what is a middle-aged woman -- who realizes that she didn't really know the man she loved for 16 years -- supposed to act like?

The supporting cast is also solid, but, unfortunately, hardly used. Martin Donovan (Judith's wealthy husband) is effective in his brief outing as the film's snake in the grass. Just as effective, in an even smaller role, is singer/actress Queen Latifah, who plays the classy singer at the club Judith likes to hang out at. She first ditches the divorcee, but takes an eventual liking to her forming an unusual relationship.

The ending, just as the majority of the film, is not Tinseltown sugar-coated. The film instead takes a more realistic (and sometimes disheartening) look at dating and starting over with some engaging and honest dialogue between the characters.

Richard LaGravenese's intelligent film on love and friendship is based on Anton Chekhov's short stories "The Kiss" and "Misery." It's a warm and funny look at how one woman, after a dramatic and heartbreaking phase in her life, convinces herself to "push on" and "live life" while (thanks to the empathic friendship of one man) finding a way to love herself again.

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