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Juliet, Naked (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Juliet, Naked

JULIET, NAKED (2018)

Starring Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd, Azhy Robertson, Ayoola Smart, Megan Dodds, Jimmy O. Yang, Lily Newmark, Johanna Thea, Lily Brazier, Paul Blackwell, Michael Chapman, Georgina Bevan, Janine Catterall, Karol Steele, Lee Byford, Ko Iwagami, Thomas Gray, Steve Barnett and Tom Patrick Stephens.

Screenplay by Evgenia Peretz and Jim Taylor & Tamara Jenkins.

Directed by Jesse Peretz.

Distributed by Roadside Attractions. 105 minutes. Rated R.

I hate to disappoint anyone who is expecting a pleasantly pervy experience when they see the movie title Juliet, Naked, but there is no woman in this movie named Juliet. There is a character named Julie, but she is only shown in brief flashbacks, and she keeps her clothes on.

Juliet is actually a CD, which was inspired by the aforementioned Julie. It is a cult-favorite alt-rock breakup album from the 90s, written and performed by a mostly-forgotten singer named Tucker Crowe (played… and sung!… by Ethan Hawke).

Juliet was Crowe’s only record (at least as of the opening of the film), a sweeping and emotional breakup platter which was a minor hit at the time of release, but one whose reputation has flourished over the years in certain circles. It has been greatly overlooked by the public at large but has a small-but-rabid fanbase of aging rock critics and music geeks, giving the album a certain hipster cool.

Much of Juliet’s cachet comes from the album’s romantic and mysterious history. Just as the album was being embraced by the alt-rock nation and fans were waiting for a similarly deep and solemn follow-up, Tucker Crowe pitched a fit during a concert, walking offstage and basically disappearing from pop-culture, and even apparently the world at large.

Internet fan sites, chat rooms and bulletin boards stoked the legend of Tucker Crowe and Juliet, discussing reported (but unlikely) sightings of the musician and obsessively arguing over the meanings of the very limited body of work.

Then, over 20 years after Crowe bowed out of the music world, his most obsessive fans were rewarded when his old record label decided to release an album of unadorned original demos of the songs from the album. They were acoustic works in progress, but they stoked the excitement of fans starved for new (or at least different) material from their hero. This new unplugged release is called Juliet, Naked.

So, that explains the title.

I always find it annoying when a movie critic compares a film to two other (usually very contradictory) films. However, though it is a bit of an oversimplification, Juliet, Naked is sort of like a mash-up of Eddie and the Cruisers and Sleepless in Seattle. I mean that as a compliment, by the way.

Now, while Tucker Crowe plays a huge part in this story, he is not the main character here. That is Annie (Rose Byrne), a thirty-something woman who lives in the gorgeous British seaside town of Sandcliff and runs her late father’s museum.

Her long-time live-in boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is a small-time university professor and Tucker Crowe’s biggest fan. Duncan runs Crowe’s biggest internet tribute site and obsessively collects memorabilia, discusses the album and stokes the conspiracy theories about Crowe’s post-Juliet life.

Duncan and Annie had long been drifting apart when Juliet, Naked appeared one day with their mail. They start to fight anew when Annie decides to give the new disk a listen before Duncan finds out about it. They are still sniping at each other when Duncan writes a gushing review of the album on the chat board. Annie anonymously signs on and writes a scathing review, saying that it was maudlin, unfinished, self-absorbed and Crowe must have been desperate for money to let these tapes out.

Soon afterwards, she gets an email telling her that she had nailed it, signed by Tucker Crowe.

Turns out that it was the real singer, who has been watching (but not usually engaging with) the fan board. Through emails, the two become pen pals, though Annie feels guilty about keeping the secret from Duncan. However, Duncan has his own secret, he has become involved in an affair with another professor, but he wants to win Annie back, though she is not so sure she is interested.

Based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), Juliet, Naked is smart, funny and wise in the ways of relationships… and obsessive fandom. The acting is spot-on, the story is sweet, and the script is legitimately funny. It helps to give hope that the romantic comedy is still an art form that still can work wonders in the movies, even if the genre is in a bit of a dry period. Juliet, Naked is unplugged and rather subtle, but it is a charmer.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 17, 2018.

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