Ethan Hawke, with a keyboard at the ready, sings The Kinks “Waterloo Sunset” during a standout moment in Juliet, Naked. These beautiful touches are sprinkled throughout this music infused story that’s blessed with a trio of beautifully rendered performances (Hawke, Chris O’Dowd, and Rose Byrne).
Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) was an indie rock singer-songwriter who gained fame thanks to the album Juliet. After abruptly leaving a performing gig at a club called the Pit, Tucker disappeared without a trace. Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is a film professor at a British seaside town who has been obsessed with Tucker’s music for years, and he chats with fellow Tuckerholics on a fan site he created.
Annie (Rose Byrne), a local museum curator who was initially swept off her feet by Duncan some 15 years ago, is understandably tired of his Tucker fandom, and things get a bit more annoying after a demo CD featuring a rough, acoustic version of Juliet lands at their doorstep. While Duncan hails this lost piece of music as a masterpiece, Annie swings the opposite direction, and throws in a few negative comments on Duncan’s website. When Tucker emails her and agrees with her pointed assessment, their secret correspondence turns into a friendship and an inevitable meeting in London.
With Annie yearning to be a mother and her relationship with Duncan going south, a romance with a rocker may be a step in the right direction. Now in his late ’40s, Tucker is not exactly the pillar of responsibility (but not for a lack of effort). Living in an upstate New York garage (his ex-girlfriend owns the home) and being a stay at home dad to his 6-year-old son Jackson (a memorable Azhy Robertson), Tucker is also father to three other children. Sporting an intended pot belly, rumpled look, and an easygoing charm, Hawke is great as Tucker (the actor recently said this character may be an extension of Reality Bites’ Troy Dyer).
Chris O’Dowd also brings a knowing humanity to Duncan, as he delivers a poignant speech about loving one’s heroes, even if said artist really doesn’t give a damn. Filmmaker Jesse Peretz, a founding member of The Lemonheads, knows a thing or two about the indie scene from the early ’90s, and the original music featured in the flick are a perfect complement to the story (one of the compositions is from Conor Oberst, who contributed the track “LAX”):
The film’s true heart and soul resides with Rose Byrne, an actress whose first rate and varied work (TV’s Damages, the overlooked sci-fi epic Sunshine, and don’t forget the Insidious and Neighbors flicks) should place her amidst the top echelon of actors. Just like Annie, Byrne’s unassuming and dependable nature (and refreshing desire not to grab the spotlight) places her right square in the middle, admiring the aforementioned “Waterloo Sunset.” Byrne hits the right notes as Annie, and her search for a better life anchors this surprisingly compelling narrative. At a distance, Juliet, Naked may seem like a gimmicky premise stuffed into a light romantic comedy, but it thankfully delves into much deeper territory.
The fictional seaside town captured in Juliet, Naked, even though Annie is bored with her lifelong environment, is also a sight to behold. Its tranquil corner of the world is seductive, and whether it’s bemoaning her state with Duncan or carving out a new bond with Tucker, living by the waters and wiling away your days sounds like a great alternative. But Annie, along with the other folks who fill her days (Lily Brazier co-stars as her romance at the ready sister), understand there is much more music left to be played, and thankfully, the song doesn’t have to remain the same.
Based on the Nick Hornby novel, Juliet, Naked opens in theaters August 17.
Rating: 4 out of 5