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by Jim Wunderle

"Living Out Loud"

Directed by: Richard LaGravenese

Starring: Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Martin Donovan, Queen Latifah

Rated: R

In a week that saw the return of bombastic Bruce (Willis in "The Siege") and asinine Adam (Sandler in "The Waterboy"), it speaks volumes about Hollywood to note that the best movie around is going on 60 years old.

The 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz" has been re-released with a cleaned up, state-of-the-art digital surround soundtrack and a nice clean print. This is the greatest family film of all time, and no matter how many times you've seen it on TV, there's nothing like seeing Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Toto, too, on the big screen. Don't miss this film.

Sneaking in in the wake of the "blockbusters" mentioned above is a melancholy romantic comedy from Danny DeVito's company, Jersey Films. Jersey has always been a company that has given us interesting movies.

Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," "Get Shorty" and "Reality Bites" are but a few. This time DeVito (as executive producer) takes a chance on a first-time director, but a guy with a pretty good track record in Hollywood as a writer.

Richard LaGravenese did the screenplay for "The Fisher King," co-wrote "Beloved" and scripted the bitterly funny Denis Leary film, "The Ref." His debut as a director (he wrote the screenplay, too) is a fairly bright spot in the romantic comedy genre.

"Living Out Loud," besides being an interesting, well-told story, benefits, too, from a strong performance from the always great Holly Hunter. This is her movie all the way, but she does get some able assistance from DeVito himself, as well as rap star Queen Latifah, proving herself to be as good a crooner as she is a rapper.

Hunter is Judith Nelson, who describes herself as a "nurse turned doctor's wife." After nearly 20 years of marriage, her husband dumps her for a younger woman a pediatrician. This adds insult to injury, because Judith herself was in med school when she met her husband but cooled it to take a back seat to his career.

After the separation, Judith is somewhat bitter and finds herself dining alone in restaurants, dreaming that someone invites her over to their table for dinner. She even fantasizes a suicide wherein she jumps out of her window and lands on her ex and his new wife, killing the three of them. She dreams of adopting a crack baby. In short, Judith starts to fall apart.

While we're getting to know her, we're also introduced to Pat, a down-on-his-luck, small-time gambler who is also divorced and recently lost his young daughter, the love of his life. Pat operates the elevator in Judith's building, trying to make enough money to pay off his gambling debts. Ever the starry-eyed optimist, Pat dreams of operating an import business, bringing in his cousin's olive oil and canned tomatoes from Italy.

Pat and Judith meet in the elevator, and despite their obvious social differences, they become friends, sharing coffee and drinks while talking about their rotten luck at love.

Pat gets a little more serious about the situation than Judith, and when he declares his feelings for her, she tries to stop him, saying she doesn't feel anything romantic for him. As mentioned, Pat's an optimist. "Who knows? Maybe you'll change your mind," is his reply. And maybe she will.

As the film progresses, so, too, does Pat and Judith's relationship, but not always in ways we've come to expect in a typical Hollywood film.

Queen Latifah adds to the supporting cast as Liz Bailey, a singer who stars at a jazz club favored by the couple. Latifah has been in a few films, but this is really a breakthrough performance for her. Fans of Billie Holiday and even modern singers like Sade will be looking for the soundtrack as soon as the film is over. Latifah's renditions here are smooth and soothing, particularly her cover of Little Anthony and the Imperials' "I Think I'm Goin' Out of My Head."

As mentioned, this is an adult-oriented film. There's no graphic sex, but there is frank talk of an adult nature, drug references, etc. For a welcome change from car chases, exploding buildings and low-brow humor, don't miss another Oscar-caliber performance from Holly Hunter in "Living Out Loud."

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