Supposedly based on two Chekhov short stories, "Misery" and "The Kiss," the directorial debut of screenwriter Richard LaGravenese ("Beloved") feels more like an adaption of a moribund off-Broadway play.
Despite its roots in Russian literature, the romantic comedy "Living Out Loud" borrows in technique from Woody Allen and "Ally McBeal" - but without the style.
Holly Hunter plays Judith Nelson, a rich Fifth Avenue doctor's wife who has just been dumped by her husband (Martin Donovan). In a daze, she spends her time talking to herself in her ritzy co-op or hanging out in a jazz club listening to her favorite torch singer, Liz Bailey (Queen Latifah).
When a man hauls her into a back room at the club and kisses her in a case of mistaken identity, Judith is somehow reawakened. Returning home, she strikes up a conversation with her building's doorman and elevator operator, Pat Francato (Danny DeVito). Pat is a similarly pathetic creature. His wife has just thrown him out of the house, his daughter is dying, and he is constantly harassed by loan sharks over gambling debts.
The two connect and become friends, but Pat wants it to be more. Judith, however, "just doesn't think about (him) that way."
As far as plot goes, that's about it. "Living Out Loud" takes an excruciatingly long time to get nowhere.
At first, it seems like there might actually be something to these characters. There are a few keenly observed moments and some nicely done dialogue. LaGravenese has a lot of affection for the characters, and early on, at least, it comes through.
Soon, however, they wear out their welcome, as they live out loud entirely too much. This is one of those stagey flicks in which people constantly have brilliant revelations about life, and share them with whoever happens to be standing nearby.
Judith makes the movie's point (I guess), when she shouts at her ex-husband in an elevator, "I don't hate you for abandoning me, because I abandoned myself a long time ago!"
The movie employs "Ally McBeal"-like flights of fancy from Judith's point of view, but the technique is not as cleverly employed and grows stale.
In fact, several times in this otherwise gritty character study, when the plot takes a rather ludicrous turn - like a semi-pornographic scene when Judith calls a masseur out of an underground newspaper, or another one in a too-chic lesbian disco - you're sure it's another fantasy, but unfortunately you're supposed to take it seriously.
Queen Latifah is more background music than a character - again borrowing from "Ally" and the way that show uses Vonda Shepard. Latifah's speaking roles aren't much, but she does a great job on Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life."
"Living Out Loud" manages to be both pretentious and shallow, and is sure to be praised by a certain kind of critic, who will inevitably drop the cliche "How refreshing to see a movie without a car chase or an explosion!" But while physical pyrotechnics do not a movie make, it would be nice to at least see some emotional ones.
This is a movie that mistakes quirks for character, and while we see lots of behavior, there is very little soul - and even less reason to care.