From its opening scene -- in which 40-something couple Bob (Martin Donovan) and Judith Nelson (Holly Hunter) are having the final conversation of their marriage in a restaurant -- through Judith's shaky adjustment to being single again, Living Out Loud positions itself as a 1990s version of An Unmarried Woman. But as the film slinks along, following the groove of Queen Latifah's spirited version of the jazz standard "Lush Life," it morphs into a fractured fairy tale of New York.
The directorial debut film of screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, noted both for his original scripts (The Fisher King) and literary adaptations (The Bridges of Madison County), Living Out Loud is an odd jumble of styles and messages. In edgier times, Judith might have ended up in a film like Looking for Mr. Goodbar -- which becomes a mere punchline here -- but LaGravenese instead deposits her in an unreal New York City that suggests an MGM musical crossed with a Janet Jackson video.
At some point in her life, Judith subverted her own ambitions to be Bob's trophy wife, and subsequently finds herself in a major post-divorce identity crisis. Judith tells Pat (Danny DeVito), the good-natured doorman in her tony Fifth Avenue apartment building, that she went from medical student (where she met Bob) to nurse to cardiologist's wife. She tells Liz (Queen Latifah), the club singer who inexplicably becomes Judith's encouraging sidekick, that she left her own friends -- family is never mentioned -- to better fit into Bob's idea of a successful, upscale, childless existence.
As good an actress as Holly Hunter is, her Judith never springs convincingly to life, and a major reason is that while LaGravenese gives her these "revealing" bits of dialogue, he forgot to write her an actual person. He also devotes a great deal of screen time to DeVito's dewy-eyed romantic and perpetual screwup, seemingly unaware that, while Pat may be engaging, his character is peripheral.
Throughout Living Out Loud, Richard LaGravenese provides Judith with a number of spunky internal monologues and a vibrant fantasy life, but unfortunately, he doesn't come close to giving her a real interior life.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.