This feminist comedy shot through with fantasies about the travails of newly single womanhood strikes some rich chords, but doesn’t quite put together a complete tune. Uneven New Line release will face an uphill commercial battle against other upscale fall fare, although it could develop a following among thirtysomething women.
Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, making his helming bow, has come up with a sort of contemporary “An Unmarried Woman” as filtered through “Ally McBeal.” Premise has Judith (Holly Hunter) suddenly finding herself along in the world when her doctor-husband (Martin Donovan) dumps her for a younger woman.
Pat (Danny DeVito) is the elevator operator in Judith’s exclusive Gotham apartment building, a man with big dreams and equally big gambling debts. The two lonely souls reach out to each other, although Judith finds it hard to take Pat seriously as a prospective partner.
Despite fine work by Hunter and DeVito in their roles, LaGravenese paints himself into a corner with this central relationship. With no realistic expectation of a conventional romantic happy ending with these two, pic is hemmed in without a clear direction out. The only release comes from Judith’s increasingly elaborate fantasies that, finally, don’t resolve anything; when Judith takes action in the real world, she as often as not makes things worse.
Judith has fantasies that are usually revealed as such only after they’re over, often in surprise-comic fashion, so the viewer is never quite certain while watching if what she is experiencing is real or not. One vivid scene in which a stranger (Elias Koteas) at a nightclub kisses her, believing her to be someone else, is never fully defined one way or the other.
In the most bravura sequence (reminiscent of the Grand Central Station dance scene in the LaGravenese-scripted “The Fisher King”), Judith’s singer-friend Liz (Queen Latifah) takes her to an after hours club. Slowly, it becomes clear that place is populated entirely by women, and Judith finds herself the star attraction in a show-stopping dance number. The moment works wonderfully on its own, but it’s hard to connect up to the rest of the film.
DeVito’s character has less to do, since his arc simply consists of being inspired by Judith’s friendship to straighten out his own life. The film is really Judith’s story, and most of Pat’s struggle ends up taking place off-camera.
Ultimately, the point of the film is for people to follow their dreams, and to be prepared that things may not always work out as expected. It’s not a bad message, but not one likely to stir audiences to turn out in droves.
Tech credits are solid, and lively score leans heavily toward old standards, both in original and updated versions.