[Screen It]

"JULIET, NAKED"
(2018) (Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Dramedy: Fed up with her longtime boyfriend's obsession with an alt rock star who stopped making records decades ago, a woman ends up in a unique relationship with that very man.
PLOT:
Annie Platt (ROSE BYRNE) is a woman who runs her late father's seaside museum in the small town of Seacliff, alongside her younger sister, Ros (LILY BRAZIER). Unlike her sibling who can't seem to settle on one woman, Annie has been dating cinema professor Duncan Thomson (CHRIS O'DOWD) for years.

Unfortunately for her, Duncan is infatuated with another person, although that's not from a romantic or sexual standpoint. Instead, he's a diehard fan of alt-rocker Tucker Crowe (ETHAN HAWKE) whose album, "Juliet," is the favorite of Duncan and a few hundred other people. Much to their collective dismay and Internet-based obsession, Tucker stopped making records twenty-five years ago and hasn't been heard from or seen since.

When an earlier version of "Juliet" shows up in the mail addressed for Duncan, Annie opens and listens to that, and then gives it a negative review on Duncan's fan site. He's mad, but Annie finds agreement from an unlikely source -- Tucker Crowe himself. He lives in his ex-wife's garage in America and cares for their young son, Jackson (AZHY ROBERTSON), and ends up opening up -- via text message and email -- to Annie who does the same back to him.

With him traveling to London to meet his grandson via the daughter he barely knows, Lizzie (AYOOLA SMART), Annie must decide what to do, especially since she's unsure how Duncan, who's just had an affair with a fellow professor, will react.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Back when I was in high school, I remember a classmate who was obsessed with the lead singer of The Vapors. They were the one-hit wonder band whose song "Turning Japanese" briefly shot them into stardom before they just as quickly vanished from the scene. I don't recall if I knew the singer's name back then, and I certainly don't know it now, but I do remember her having a black and white photo of him over which she gushed enthusiastically.

Of course, that was understandable and completely acceptable back then when such teen girl obsessions were fairly finite, what with any such group hysteria being limited to mail-based fan clubs and screaming over possible band appearances somewhere nearby. What isn't as reasonable, however, is a middle-aged man behaving in a similar way for decades, and not from any sort of romantic or sexual interest but just simple obsessive fandom.

That's the fun kicking off point for "Juliet, Naked," a romantic dramedy whose title might make it sound like its R rating signifies a completely different sort of film. Instead, it relates to an earlier 'naked" cut of the one album said middle-aged man believe is his favorite artist's masterpiece.

That man is played by Chris O'Dowd, his obsession is portrayed by Ethan Hawke, and the fan's longtime suffering girlfriend is played by Rose Byrne who's had it up to as high as her fingers can reach with anything and everything to do with alt-rocker Tucker Crowe. A basement room in her place is essentially a sacred shrine to the singer who didn't even reach the one-hit wonder stage of worldwide fame and who hasn't been seen or heard from in twenty-five years.

That matters not at all to Duncan, a cinema professor who'd much rather spend time chatting online with his fellow fans about all things Tucker related than pay attention to Annie. She runs her late father's seaside museum with her younger, lesbian sister (Lily Brazier) and believes she's likely thrown away the past decade and change putting up with her boyfriend's nonsense.

Thus, when that rough earlier version of said masterpiece arrives in the mail, Annie opens it up, trashes it on Duncan's website, and waits for the live-in boyfriend fallout. Not surprisingly, that shows up on cue, but what she isn't expecting is agreement from another person on that site, none other than Tucker Crowe himself who emails her.

The two strike up a faceless, platonic relationship of sorts and it's at that point that you half expect director Jesse Peretz and screenwriters Evgenia Peretz and Jim Taylor & Tamara Jenkinsto (adapting the novel by Nick Hornby) to take the film in some sort of revenge direction where Annie exposes Tucker to Duncan as far less than a genius. But what happens is that she learns the singer isn't the devil who's ruined a big chunk of her life.

Instead, he's attentive, a good listener, and a person who's very open about his past mistakes. That's particularly true regarding the various children he's fathered in the past -- such as Lizzie (Ayoola Smart) who he hasn't seen in years and is going to have a child of her own -- and is trying to make amends by being a good dad to his youngest offspring, Jackson (Azhy Robertson).

The result is engaging, entertaining, funny, romantic and nothing short of charming as we watched two damaged souls -- who've lost years of their lives to bad choices and inaction -- try to push the reset button.

Thanks to great performances from both Byrne and Hawke and the material with which they've been given to work (and subsequently run with), we root for them to succeed, especially when the obligatory complications and doubts arise. The result should bring a smile to your face and a warm, gushy feeling in your heart, and for that "Love, Juliet" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed August 16, 2018 / Posted August 24, 2018


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