The catchy title of the film, “Juliet, Naked” – may get you through the theater doors – it’s the standout acting that will keep you there. Mark Harrington has this week’s Friday Film Review.
This week’s film is “Juliet, Naked”, starring Rose Bryne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke. Based upon the Nick Hornby novel, “Juliet, Naked” is the title of a mysterious bootleg album by a fictional American rock musician named Tucker Crowe, who vanished without a trace from the music scene nearly two decades ago. When the album surfaces in a London fan club dedicated exclusively to Crowe, it causes friction between Crowe’s number one fan Duncan and his girlfriend Annie. Fed up with her boyfriend’s failure to commit and his 15-year-obsession with Tucker Crowe, Annie lashes out with a scathing review of the album ambushing Duncan in his own chat room dedicated to fellow obsessed fans and the couple consequently parts ways. However, the honesty of Annie’s post captures the attention of the reclusive rocker and Tucker Crowe embarks upon a “You’ve Got Mail”-like exchange with Annie over email. When an unexpected event brings Tucker to London, he seeks out Annie and sparks of all sorts start to fly when Duncan discovers Tucker’s presence. As only Nick Hornby can do, the seemingly ridiculous, overly-sentimental plot takes some seriously introspective and surprising turns and what sounds like melodramatic nonsense soon has you humming along with the soundtrack rooting for the film’s characters. As he so superbly accomplished with “High Fidelity”, “It’s About a Boy” his soccer memoir “Fever Pitch”, and his more recent screen adaptations for “An Education” and “Brooklyn”, both which earned Oscar nominations, Hornby’s story melds relationships, obsession, music, humor and mid-life crisis all together to produce character interaction so completely absurd until all of a sudden they start to resemble your friends and family. So, it is safe to say, if you liked Hornby’s prior work, you will like “Juliet, Naked”. Unfortunately, Hornby didn’t write the script which under the direction of Jesse Peretz comes dangerously close to an irritating Woody Allen-like narcissistic turn but is kept afloat by the lead trio of Bryne, O’Dowd and Hawk. Ethan Hawk delivers a surprisingly restrained effort as the down and out ex-rocker, somewhere in between Slyvester Stallone in “Copland” and Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”. O’Dowd’s comedic timing completely fractures otherwise melodramatic scenes and Rose Bryne is finally given the roll and screen time she deserves to demonstrate her charm and versatility in an entanglement of complicated relationships and self-reflection.
So, on my ski trail rating system “Juliet, Naked” earns my second highest DOUBLE BLUE ski trail rating. Perfect casting led by an irresistible Rose Bryne and a vulnerable Ethan Hawke elevate this contemplative, romantic comedy which ultimately lives up to the expectations of Nick Hornby’s novel.
“Juliet, Naked” is rated R for language but no nudity and no Juliet – the only thing exposed is humanity’s fleeting opportunities for reconciliation.
This is Mark Harrington for KPCW’s Friday Film Review. The Friday Film Review is sponsored by the the Park City Film Series.