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Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Retro Review: Living Out Loud (1998)

Living Out Loud
Cast: Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Queen Latifah, Martin Donovan
Genre: Romantic Comedy Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $15 million

Plot: After being unceremoniously dumped by her husband, 40-something Divorcee Judith tries to make sense of her new existence. She becomes friends with Pat, the elevator operator in her high-rise apartment building who is having marital problems of his own. Judith also dabbles in a new romance with an attractive masseur and lets loose in a new nightclub ruled by torch singer, Liz Bailey, with whom she connects 

'Overlooked Rom-Com That Is Just Wonderful'

This film reminds me so much of As Good As It Gets in so many ways, but for the plot, but also arguably has slightly more charm. Living Out Loud follows in a similar vein to As Good As It Gets: romantic comedy-dramas that centrally focus on mature and middle-aged people finding love. 

Written & directed by Richard LaGravenese, screenwriter for The Bridges of Madison County and The Fisher King, this is a surreal and wonderfully crafted romantic dramedy about how one tries to recover and moves on from a break-up, whilst at the same time, trying to find meaning in her life and searching for the reality that lies within. 

Judith and Robert were happily married. She thought she had the perfect marriage and that nothing could go wrong. After putting her studies on hold to find work and to support each other, all of a sudden, after 15 years, Robert leaves Judith to be with a younger woman. Judith finds solace and comfort in elevator operator, Pat: a sweet, gentle, nice guy who wants nothing other than happiness. No sooner are their tragedies and misfortunes bringing them closer together, that there is also that one thing that is keeping them apart. Queen Latifah plays the lounge singer, who is more than welcome to lend a helping hand to Judith and to help her navigate the tricky waters that lie ahead: not only does she have a fantastic set of pipes with regards to her singing, but her acting performance is sublime also.

I always enjoy Danny DeVito on screen but very rarely does he play nice characters and here as Pat, he really is a sweet guy: a hotel janitor who lost his daughter and has a good heart. He also shows how capable he is at playing vulnerable and pleasant characters with a restrained portrayal, without going into one of his 'angry, raging little man' turns, as seen in his previous roles before this one. Which is a huge plus. Holly Hunter was a revelation too; she's a great actress in whatever she does and though she won an Oscar playing a mute in The Piano, she did even better here (at least she spoke) and it's a shame her performance in this film was overlooked. The Holly and Danny partnership was something I thought would never work so well, - but it did, and it was fantastic. Their little moments together were so pleasant to watch, which tinge on sweetness, and bittersweetness also, as they each take the time to get to know one another, conversing with each other, whilst leaning on each other for emotional comfort and support. Queen Latifah shines as a lounge singer whose character is the key to Judith and Pat's happiness. She also has this subtleness and charm that she manages to bring to Liz.

About making the Asian- American woman a bad person by making her the new girlfriend of the boyfriend, I wasn't offended by this. It just happened and I'm not bothered at all.

Compared to so many other predictable and stock rom-coms and romantic films, Living Out Loud has witty and smart dialogue, the writing is great and DeVito's character makes it less of a 'chick flick', without descending into dripping schmaltz and is one that general audiences can tap into. It's a breath of fresh air. The scene where Judith and Pat make out in the elevator was highly amusing, as is Holly dancing with a horde of lesbian women to Brownstone's ''If You Love Me'' in a trendy nightclub.

It's a great pity Living Out Loud did not find its audience like with so many other popular romantic comedies and dramedies that have been more financially successful, in contrast to this movie. Gone completely unnoticed in 1998, and it was when I discovered this film on Letterboxd, this is yet another gem unearthed that deserves a chance. It most definitely has a lot more in common with As Good As It Gets, especially with the tone, approach and feel but it is also more bittersweet and arguably a bit more earnest. I was a little sad that Judith and Pat didn't get together in the end, and yet seeing Judith being happy for him when she sees him find love, that was very nice and touching. 

Final Verdict:

Richard LaGravenese's directorial first, as well as having a hand in penning this film, though it is suggested the film doesn't make a lot of sense if you are under 40, I totally get it and loved every single minute of it. I enjoyed As Good As It Gets, and Living Out Loud is a lot like that film in many respects, as I said and is a romantic comedy-drama that is fascinating as it is understated. It makes me wish romantic dramas and comedies were as well-conceived and writers and casting directors weren't obsessed in casting actors in rom-coms, because they look attractive and pretty and are young but because they can bring something to the role that they play. 

It was great to see a romantic comedy executed in a slightly different way that also made me smile in places. 

Living Out Loud could have easily fallen under the label of 'chick flick', but thanks to the mature leads and casting of then 40/50 somethings Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito and under LaGravenese's vision, the film lends itself to a truly unique and revitalising look at love, reality and honesty, which I truly feel the romantic comedy subgenre of film usually lacks in abundance. 

Unquestionably so, this is a highly overlooked gem of this genre that its fans and non-rom-com fans should definitely consider.  


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