Rapper Queen Latifah wails the wounded heart out of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." Her opening song perfectly catches the jazz-and-cocktails mood of this rueful comic romance from screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (Beloved, The Horse Whisperer) in a promising directing debut. Holly Hunter stars as Judith, a rich Manhattanite who is dumped by her doctor husband (Martin Donovan) and begins living in fantasies of sex and exhibitionism.
Judith finds comfort with Pat (Danny DeVito), the sympathetic elevator operator in her co-op. But Pat mistakes Judith's loneliness for a deeper need. Hunter and DeVito give touchingly nuanced performances, and Latifah proves that her raves for Set It Off were no fluke by stealing every scene she's in as Liz, the vocalist who befriends Judith but can't sing away her own heartache.
Living Out Loud has the quality of a European film, owing to the character revelations in John Bailey's eloquent cinematography and the Chekhov stories (The Kiss and Misery) that inspired the script. LaGravenese may be unsteady at the helm, but his film insinuates like a torch song that keeps messing with your head.