Review: 'Living Out Loud' speaks well for Oscar
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From Reviewer Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- I smell Oscar nominations: "Living Out Loud" is a wonderful character-driven adult comedy, and one of the best films this year.
Academy Award winner Holly Hunter is spectacular in her role as a middle-aged woman faced with finding out just who she is after wasting 20 years in a bad marriage. Also living an aimless existence is the elevator man in her East Side New York City co-op. Danny DeVito gives a magical performance in that role.
Richard LaGravenese has screenwriting credit on films such as "The Horse Whisperer," "Bridges of Madison County" and the recently released "Beloved" starring Oprah Winfrey. Now he has written -- and for the first time, directed -- his latest project, "Living Out Loud."
Hunter gives a passionate performance as Judith Nelson, a woman who gave up her dreams to live a life as the wife of a wealthy Fifth Avenue doctor. But when she's dumped for a younger woman, she's faced with a an overwhelming loneliness. LaGravenese has given Hunter wonderful scenes where we go inside Judith's head as she fantasizes about everything from suicide to just being able to have a dinner partner instead of always eating alone.
DeVito is his best ever as the elevator man, Pat, who is always chasing his dreams but never living them. He too is full of loss and loneliness. Together they manage to help each other heal, and to grow in new directions, but not necessarily in the ways they had planned, or in ways the audience may expect.
Riding in luxury
For me, really great films are character-driven and this one is ridin' in a Cadillac. "Living Out Loud" is a very personal, realistic story and a heartfelt study of loneliness.
This script is very loosely based on two short stories by Anton Chekhov. Chekhov and Hollywood are words that are rarely found in the same sentence, unless you're talking about the character from "Star Trek." But first-time director LaGravenses has the finesse to pull it off.
Taken from Chekhov's short story, "The Kiss," Hunter's character is accidently kissed in the dark by a man who thinks she is someone else. But this moment of human contact renews her faith in life, and her own sexuality -- taking the story into an entirely different direction.
Chekov's short story, "Misery" is about a cab driver (horse driven -- this is Chekov) who is miserable and isolated, but still in contact with the world as people get in and out of his cab. From this concept LaGravenese has carved out DeVito's character, making him an elevator man instead of a cabbie.
Queen Latifah is best known as a rap artist, but in "Living Out Loud" she is wonderful as Liz Bailey, a blues singer who befriends Judith. Latifah gets to perform such classic tunes as Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" and "Be Anything (But Be Mine)" by Irving Gordon.
But that's not all. DeVito gets to belt out a song too. He gives a catchy performance singing "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Don't get me wrong, he shouldn't give up his day job, but he handles the tune just fine and it's a great moment in this movie full of great moments.
Plus, there's a dance number with Hunter that will knock you out. It's a fantasy dance sequence that takes place in an after-hours nightclub. Hunter and 50 professional dancers perform a routine by choreographer Frank Gatson Jr., that would have made Bob Fosse proud. This slinky, slick dance packs an emotional wallup while also moving the plot forward. No one does that with dance in films anymore, and this is a major high point of the movie.
The three main characters in this wonderful story all take journeys of self discovery, and ultimately learn to live with reality. To make their dreams come true. This is one of those films that will be a success due to word-of-mouth -- this mouth plans on working over time.
"Living Out Loud" is rated R for language, and for some drug content and sexuality. 102 minutes.
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