Her pupils and irises indistinguishable orbs of liquid brown, Holly Hunter possibly has the most intent and focused gaze of any actor in films today: They're the eyes of a determined but often tortured soul. During her moments of confession in Living Out Loud,
it's those eyes that speak volumes, even more than the subtle, piercing dialogue provided by director-screenwriter LaGravenese, here making his debut behind the camera. Unfortunately, there's not much of a story to go with Hunter's engaging performance and LaGravenese's words; when it comes to its narrative, there's something missing in Living Out Loud.
The film begins with Hunter quizzing her husband, a successful doctor, in an elegant New York City restaurant about a woman with whom he had been seen. Suspecting something, she won't let him off the hook, as he tells her that the other woman is only a work colleague. Finally, when she asks the approximate age of this colleague, he answers with such specificity that she instantly knows the truth. It's a great moment that sets the stage for her character's fall and rise as she learns to make a new life after divorce. Along the way, she befriends a down-on-his-luck elevator operator, who's romantically interested in her, and a nightclub singer with a penchant for picking the wrong men. These are strange bedfellows for a woman living on the Upper West Side, but fitting for a movie whose theme celebrates tearing down the walls that keep us from fully experiencing life. (Woody Allen's Alice
did the same thing, using the same type of character and milieu, and – quite frankly – did it better.) At first, Hunter's character constantly idealizes situations, imagining how they should be because she finds reality awkward and unsatisfying. But as she grows into her own skin and does things that she never had the opportunity to do before – kiss a complete stranger in a darkened room she mistakes for a bathroom; imbibe mind-altering substances and dance the night away in a chic lesbian bar; hire a hunky masseuse to give her an erotic rubdown – the need to fantasize becomes less so. If only the development of her character and the narrative were structured in a way that made the movie feel less episodic, you'd find yourself really drawn to this oddly appealing movie about personal liberation. If anything, it's good to see Hunter in a role befitting her after being lost in questionable acting choices in Crash
and A Life Less Ordinary.
And it's even better to see those fantastic eyes put to good use once more.