Living Out Loud
If you like your romances with a minimum of schmaltz and a good helping of reality, Living Out Loud is your best bet. I’ve read some reviews, like Owen Gleiberman’s in Entertainment Weekly, that poke holes in the movie’s plot. Why, they ask, would a newly divorced woman who looks like Holly Hunter fall for an elevator operator who looks like Danny DeVito? Not only is this question cruel (why not? what is someone who looks like Danny DeVito supposed to do, dip his balls in lava?), it isn’t even accurate. Judith (Hunter) has just lost her husband and everything she thought her life was. Pat (DeVito) has recently lost much more. Yet they’re not just two losers clinging to each other. They’re two of the many lonely people in New York, and they’re comforted by each other’s company. The movie is about the romance of connection; it isn’t necessarily about the standard romance that, in movies, usually ends in marriage.
This lovely and understated film is the directing debut of Richard LaGravenese, who wrote The Fisher King and tried to make something out of the adaptations of The Bridges of Madison County (he just about succeeded) and The Horse Whisperer (okay, so he’s not a magician). Directing his own script, LaGravenese is content to let the camera sit and watch the actors, for which we’re grateful. Hunter and especially DeVito seem almost delighted to be able to relax and speak to one another like normal humans. Both actors have tended toward caricature in past performances — usually pretty funny caricatures, like Hunter’s yowling wannabe-mom in Raising Arizona and DeVito in just about everything. Here, the actors enjoy each other’s quiet rhythms so much that, even if the film ended up selling you a romance between them, you’d happily buy it.
LaGravenese, though, has other things in mind. Judith and Pat both need to move on from their losses; she wants to get over her cheating ex-husband (Martin Donovan) and go back to med school, he wants to go into the olive-oil business with his uncle back in Sorrento. Their relationship is essentially a safe place for them to rest and think aloud to each other, expressing plans they didn’t know they had. The danger isn’t that they’ll grow apart, it’s that they’ll grow too close — get lost in each other and never know what they could have accomplished on their own.
Judith and Pat, in short, learn what the miserable people in Happiness don’t: that another person can’t be your lifeline, that connections based on fear of being alone are faulty. Living Out Loud is essentially a two-character play (though it benefits from the appearance of Queen Latifah, who has a beautiful singing voice and turns out not to be the soulful you-go-girlfriend angel you may expect from the ads — she’s just a friendly person). If it were more conventional, I would recommend it with misgivings, focusing on the touching honesty of Hunter’s and DeVito’s performances. But the triumph of the actors and their director is that the movie itself is touching and honest, so instead of sticking out and transcending the material, the actors blend right in.