Tuesday 12 October 2021

Movie Review: Juliet, Naked (2018)

A sharp-edged romantic comedy, Juliet, Naked enjoys a playful premise nibbling on life's suspended dreams.

In England, Annie (Rose Byrne) is the museum curator in the small seaside community of Sandcliff. She is getting exasperated with her partner Duncan (Chris O'Dowd), a college professor obsessed with obscure American independent musician Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who released the album Juliet in 1993 and promptly disappeared mid-tour. Duncan runs a website for other Tucker aficionados, trading rumours about the musician's whereabouts. 

In fact Tucker is living a quiet life in upstate New York. He is trying to remain close to his youngest son Jackson, to make up for having been an inattentive father to all his other children, including London-based Lizzie (Ayoola Smart), herself now pregnant.

The record company sends Duncan an early demo of Tucker's album, this one labelled Juliet, Naked. Annie sarcastically joins the online discussion and is stunned to be contacted by an appreciative Tucker, and they start an exchange of messages. She drifts further apart from Duncan, then has an opportunity to meet Tucker when he travels to London to visit Lizzie.

An adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel, Juliet, Naked provides witty commentary about breaking free from old shackles. Director Jesse Peretz keeps the mood light but mature for the breezy 105 minutes of running time, and the script (co-written by Tamara Jenkins) makes good use of the fictional Sandcliff as a picturesque but still grey English town. Like the characters, the locale appears bogged down in the past, while the soundtrack of angst-riddled 1990's rock (performed by Hawke) underlines a long-gone musical era still dominating the lives of Annie and Duncan.

After 15 years, Annie can no longer deny her relationship with Duncan has a good past but no future. She wants to start a family, while he is still acting like an adolescent with his single-album Tucker infatuation. Meanwhile, Tucker has abandoned music to focus on Jackson, a laudable commitment, except that he is also studiously avoiding mending fences with all his other children (young Jackson hardly knows he even has siblings). Annie, Duncan, and Tucker all need to find the courage to re-engage with today, and some will move forward more gracefully than others.

The secondary characters add colour and humour. Annie's flighty sister Ros (Lily Brazier) believes she is finding love with a different woman every night, while Sandcliff's mayor (Phil Davis) is an eccentric relic more suited for display in Annie's museum.

Compared to her sister and the men in her life, Annie is the only responsible adult in the room, and Rose Byrne is the standout performer, leveraging the anxiety of a biological clock ticking ever louder to kick-start a new chapter. Ethan Hawke can play characters like Tucker Crowe in his sleep, while Chris O'Dowd conveys a man with a teenager's psychology, still stuck in the posters-on-the-wall, hero-worship stage.

Astute and amusing, Juliet, Naked enjoys good acoustics.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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