In Living Out Loud, Holly Hunter plays an Upper East Side doctor's wife who comes home one day, 16 years into her marriage, and realizes there's no doctor in the house. Oh, the body's still there, but the mind (and, on selected nights, the body) drifted away a long time ago. Hunter's Judith both knew this was happening and pretended she didn't know it was happening, pretended so well that it comes as a shock when her husband finally stops denying his affairs. Now what? Divorce, of course, but what after that? Judith doesn't know. At first, she holes up in her Fifth Avenue apartment, lip-synching to love songs. Then she goes slightly off her rocker. For Judith is one of those women who put everything they have into their marriages. Or, as she will eventually tell her estranged husband, "I left me long before you did." In short, Judith is An Unmarried Woman, and writer-director Richard LaGravenese puts her through the same stations of the cross that Jill Clayburgh went through 20 years ago in Paul Mazursky's feminist banner-waver. Living Out Loud never quite overcomes the fact that it's waving yesterday's banner, not today's. (Wouldn't Judith also be a doctor today?) But LaGravenese, who's known for adapting novels about women emerging from self-imposed cocoons (Bridges of Madison County, The Horse Whisperer, Beloved), has done a good job of worming his way into what it feels like to metamorphose from a caterpillar into a butterfly. Judith hires a masseur, gets drunk, tries Ecstasy and visits a lesbian dance bar, but what she's really doing is looking around for where she put her life. This is LaGravenese's first stab at directing, and he finally stabs the thing to death, but the movie's first half shows a lot of promise. As Judith loses her bearings, so do we, in a Borgesian labyrinth of flashbacks and flash-forwards, the flash-forwards serving as flights of fancy from which Judith comes crashing back down to earth. When a man pulls her into a dark room in the basement of a jazz club and, without realizing she's the wrong woman, kisses her passionately on the lips, we're not quite sure it's really happening. Which is perfect, since Judith isn't sure either. Early on, LaGravenese lets us in on what Judith's thinking--interior monologues (and dialogues) that are both strange and strangely familiar. Instead of An Unmarried Woman, the movie's first half is closer to Diary of a Mad Housewife. I wonder if LaGravenese realized what a good movie he had going. Alas, Living Out Loud has smaller fish to fry--i.e., Danny DeVito. DeVito plays Pat, the elevator operator in Judith's building. His wife having left him, his daughter having died, his gambling debts having piled high enough to bring on visits from guys with really shiny hair, Pat is the original sad sack--at least he would be if there were even a smidgen of originality in the role. Now, I'm not exactly the national president of the Danny DeVito fan club, and I have to admit he digs a little deeper this time around. But it's no use digging for what's not there. LaGravenese allows the movie to devolve into a James Brooks-ish dramedy about odd-couple relationships. "Is this As Good As It Gets?" I finally jotted down in my little notebook.
Completing the As-Good-As-It-Gets trio is Queen Latifah as Liz, a jazz singer who props up Judith's teetering ego and sends her on her merry way. Latifah looks fabulous in a red silk gown and does a nice, if uninspired, rendition of "Lush Life." She and Hunter never really click, but that almost makes sense, given the movie's sensitivity to wrong numbers, disconnections and parties on hold--New York as a city with 8 million people, all of them lonely. As the loneliest one of them all, Hunter doesn't ever get under Judith's skin, but she does some great work on the surface. I loved it when Judith's husband's new girlfriend walked up to her and sincerely apologized for any pain she might have caused. "Wow, you sound great," Judith tells her, in a voice that cuts like a razor. "Could I fuck you?"