Juliet, Naked

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British writer Nick Hornby’s Wild (Reese Witherspoon) was a big disappointment. It’s strange how critics all raved about it, and hated his Fever Pitch (Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore), which was actually kind of cute.

An Education was a solid piece of work.

Brooklyn (Saoirse Ronan) was okay, but it’s his first few films that I loved — About a Boy (Hugh Grant) and High Fidelity (John Cusack, Jack Black).

As a music lover, High Fidelity was right in my wheelhouse. And that’s probably why I liked Juliet, Naked more than most people will. When Hornby combines immature men and music — I’m on board. I’m also just a huge Ethan Hawke fan. He continues to impress me with the interesting projects he tackles.

Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother) directed this story about a woman named Annie (Rose Byrne) who seems to be winding down her 15-year relationship. It’s not that her boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is such a bad guy. He just doesn’t want kids, and she’s thinking she might want some. And, he’s obsessed with a singer/songwriter named Tucker Crowe, who had a huge album in the ‘90s and then just disappeared. He’s created a website devoted to Crowe, in which he and many fans dissect song lyrics and talk about past shows. He ends up getting a disc of the “Juliet” album, called “Juliet, Naked” which has the original, acoustic versions of the songs before they were fleshed out and put onto the classic album he loves. The big sign of trouble is that he tells his girlfriend he can’t listen to it with her, since she doesn’t appreciate it.

After he writes his review, she logs on and writes a critique of it that’s rather negative. He loses his cool, but it does impress one person — Tucker Crowe. He thinks she nailed what was wrong with the record.

Annie is a museum curator in the tourist town of Seacliff. She starts an email relationship with Crowe after her review, and you can tell they’re starting to have feelings for each other.

Duncan is a college professor, who seems to have a new student — a fellow colleague that is expressing interest in his love of Crowe.

I did think the film could’ve been a little hipper. Peretz, after all, used to be in the ‘90s band The Lemonheads (they had a hit with their Mrs. Robinson cover).

I also thought the movie could’ve been a little funnier, as well as a bit more romantic. I mean, as much as I liked the Tucker Crowe character (the scene where he sees the room that’s a shrine to him is priceless)…it’s just hard to ever feel the romance in the air when this guy is a bit of a dead beat, and has six kids from six different women. Not to mention the fact that part of this premise is like the documentary Waiting for Sugarman, in which the filmmakers are trying to track down an obscure singer/songwriter named Rodriguez. And the problem with an Eddie and the Cruisers type of theme (or if it were about a real life musician, perhaps a Paul Westerberg or Jeff Buckley type), about a singer that just disappears from the limelight…is that we now have the internet and other resources available for finding someone. It wouldn’t have been hard for Duncan to find this guy, especially with his having all those kids.

Those complaints aside, it’s still an enjoyable film. It’s refreshing that we can watch Duncan and Tucker with Annie (or other characters), and we’re sometimes charmed by them. Other times, we think they’re dopes.

There were a few scenes that were incredibly powerful. One of those is when Tucker finally “performs” again. I’m thinking we’re going to hear one of these songs from his epic album, and instead he does a song he wishes he would’ve written — The Kinks “Waterloo Sunset” which is one of the best ballads ever.

There’s another scene where Duncan doesn’t believe it’s really Tucker, and he asks to see some ID. What he says after looking at the passport had me laughing out loud.

There’s also a scene that’s perfectly written. Duncan starts yelling at Tucker during a dinner, because Tucker is dismissing his own album. What Duncan says about the art and the artist, is actually well stated. Another screenwriter would’ve wanted Duncan to sound like a fool. It was smart to play it the way they did.

There’s not many side stories going on. We get one sister (Lily Brazier) that’s a lesbian, and always pursuing different women. Judd Apatow produced this movie, and that feels like an Apatow influence. I don’t know. Maybe that’s not fair to say. Perhaps they just wanted to show how the sister is the exact opposite — she’ll aggressively go after what she wants, unlike Annie.

The movie has an amazingly hysterical closing scene that everyone will love. It helps you leave the theatre with a smile on your face.

Obviously, the soundtrack is terrific. The Tucker Crowe songs were written by Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst, and Robyn Hitchcock (Hawke doing vocals, except on the demos). We also got to hear The Pretenders, Wilco, M. Ward, and Squeeze.

3 stars out of 5.




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