Juliet, Naked
dir Jesse Peretz
scr Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor, Tamara Jenkins
prd Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Barry Mendel, Judd Apatow, Jeffrey Soros
with Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O'Dowd, Azhy Robertson, Lily Brazier, Megan Dodds, Ayoola Smart, Denise Gough, Eleanor Matsuura, Enzo Cilenti, Pamela Lyne, Phil Davis
release US 17.Aug.18, UK 2.Nov.18
18/UK 1h37
Juliet Naked
Unexpected connection: Byrne and Hawke

odowd gough dodds
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Juliet Naked Warm and engaging, this comedy has a gently offhanded vibe that draws the audience in. Based on the Nick Hornby novel, the narrative is a fresh take on the rom-com, exploring disparate characters who begin to realise that they have wasted the past 15 years and now have a chance to do something about that. And the quirky ironies layered through the story make it remarkably engaging.

In seaside Britain, Duncan (O'Dowd) runs a superfan site for rock icon Tucker Crowe (Hawke), who vanished after releasing his seminal album Juliet. Duncan's patient girlfriend Annie (Byrne) is starting to second-guess their decision not to have kids. And she's also getting fed up with his obsession, especially after he receives a new "naked" version of Juliet. Then when she writes a snarky online review, Annie gets an email from Tucker in rural America. As their correspondence continues, they encourage each other to break out of their decade-long ruts.

The film smoothly shifts back and forth as Annie and Tucker explore their own situations. Annie is craving a family of her own, while Tucker lives with an ex (Matsuura) and their chatty son Jackson (Robertson), while a pregnant daughter (Smart) sparks thoughts of becoming a grandparent. Meanwhile, Duncan has fallen for colleague Gina (Gough), who appreciates Juliet, Naked. Duncan and Annie's bust-up feels rather pointed as a plot device, as do events that bring Tucker, Jackson and Annie together in London.

Byrne and O'Dowd dial down their performances to create unexpectedly subtle characters, only rarely playing up the comedy. They also quietly reveal their souls through these likeably unfulfilled people. Meanwhile, Hawke gives a superbly relaxed, scruffy turn as Tucker. His frustration at his crazy life is enjoyably well-played, as is his connection with Annie, which feels nicely unforced. His relationships with an array of children by various exes are amusingly realistic.

There are some intriguing themes that gurgle up in the extended final act, as Duncan meets his hero and has to confront his long-held opinions. Meanwhile, Tucker has to confront the fact that his art, which he discounts, has real meaning for his fans. And there are strikingly astute running comments on relationships with ex-lovers. These and even darker thoughts and feelings give the film a remarkably serious kick before things lighten up again in the end. So the final 20 minutes are packed with moments that easily elicit a smile.

cert 15 themes, language 30.Oct.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall