Photos | Alex Bailey / Amazon Studios
From left: In “Juliet, Naked,” long suffering girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne) strikes up a romance with the object of her boyfriend’s obsession. “Life Itself,” from director and writer Dan Fogelman, examines the perils and rewards of everyday life in a multi-generational saga.
Ethan Hawke and Rose Byrne are here to rescue date night with the bittersweet romantic comedy “Juliet, Naked,” an utterly delightful film, nicely tempered with the realities of growing older.
Byrne plays Annie, a demure English intellectual working as a museum curator, who is increasingly unsatisfied with her fellow intellectual boyfriend Duncan, played by Chris O’Dowd, who steals every scene with his flawlessly clear-eyed depiction of the adult male fan boy.
Their lives are extremely well-written; every detail, such as Duncan’s controlling and precise cooking skills, their time-filling activities and pursuits, and the college courses Duncan teaches, is hilariously spot on. When we gradually learn how empty Annie finds these pursuits, and how she longs to start a family, these ostensibly high-minded hobbies ring false.
The most all-consuming hobby of all, naturally, belongs to Duncan, who is obsessed with the life and music of mysterious American rock star Tucker Crowe, and writes a blog concerning the few albums Crowe produced before disappearing suddenly from the music scene — particularly an album called “Juliet.” When a new, unplugged version, “Juliet, Naked,” comes to light, Annie writes a blistering review for the blog and Tucker Crowe himself (Hawke) responds to the review, in agreement.
That’s the unusual meet-cute for the appealing pair of Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke, and the progress of their relationship remains refreshingly unexpected. While Annie longs to become a mother, Tucker is already a disappointing father several times over, with many kids and their mothers scattered everywhere, all of whom are furious with him for his various shortcomings. Even as Annie and Tucker go from long distance to closer proximity, a rapidly accumulating lifetime of baggage holds them apart.
“Juliet, Naked” is from a novel by Nick Hornby, who is second only to Jane Austen in the novel-that-makes-a-great-romantic-comedy department, and this film has two movie-great entries in the Hornby canon of man-children in the characters of Tucker and his erudite acolyte, Duncan. But it is Annie, the woman they both want, who is a nice surprise, and for once Hornby gives us a fully formed female character.
This is a wistful, well-written film about the complexities of romance as an adult, and it contains some harsh realities while also being hopeful and romantic. The characters are well-written and fully realized; even Ethan Hawke’s cardigan and cargo shorts wardrobe is magnificent, and they somehow manage to make gorgeous Rose Byrne look mildly dowdy at times.
Duncan is a funny character, and plenty of long-suffering women will appreciate his painfully realistic depiction of male music obsession. But he is not played just for laughs; his passion for Tucker Crowe’s music gives the film an added dimension of pathos beyond just the irony of his hero suddenly appearing in person to date his ex girlfriend.
“Juliet, Naked” hits the perfect notes of comedy, romance and bittersweet reality, and Ethan Hawke is moving into the next phase of his heartthrob status nicely. Any time Rose Byrne gets a role as good as she is, is a cause for tuning in, so don’t miss this rare treat with a perfect cast, great material and hilariously detailed script.
“Juliet, Naked” is coming soon to the Crescent Theater.
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