Thursday , September 20 2018

‘Juliet’ a low-key rom-com for Gen-X

Byrne recalls Kylie Minogue obsession

‘Juliet, Naked’ is a charming and smart little film about early middle age, second chances, regrets and the intoxicating freedom of written correspondence that’s nearly impossible to explain without either spoiling something or being willfully misleading.

That’s actually one of its attributes: Everything only makes sense in context of everything else. “Juliet, Naked” has a plot that not only builds but that keeps getting more interesting and more rewarding, which is a good thing because to hear this film described is a tedious and confusing exercise. Woman starts romance with elusive indie rocker who is also boyfriend’s obsession? What?

Because, ultimately, “Juliet, Naked”, adapted from a Nick Hornby novel and directed by Jesse Peretz, is not really about the romance or the rocker or the lousy boyfriend. It’s about a woman, trapped in stagnation learning what she wants. (No wonder this Sundance gem is hovering just over “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Rose Byrne plays said woman, Annie, who lives a perfectly ordinary life in an English coastal town. She works for the tiny local museum that her father once ran, she spends time with her sister and she tolerates her man-child boyfriend, an academic named Duncan (perfectly rendered by Chris O’Dowd). Duncan runs a fan blog devoted to Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), a fictional cultish figure from the 90s indie rock scene who made a seminal album, “Juliet”, but vanished in between sets at the height of his fame and hasn’t been heard from for 25 years.

Annie is dutifully supportive of this obsession, until one day a disc arrives in the mail, “Juliet, Naked”, a compilation of early demos that no one has heard. Duncan thinks it’s genius but Annie dissents, countering that unfinished works of art are just that – unfinished – and not meant to be heard, even posting a lengthy comment on the blog.

This infuriates Duncan, who you could imagine breaking up with her because of a difference of opinion, but manages to get the attention of someone else – Tucker Crowe. He emails Annie to tell her she got it right, which kicks off a wonderful little trans-Atlantic correspondence between two people who couldn’t have conducted themselves more differently in their youth, but have found themselves in a similar spot nonetheless. I’m not even sure it’s accurately categorized as a romance – more so the heady excitement of actually connecting with another person over something honest, like regrets, both of whom have many.

Reward

Annie regrets caring to the point of paralysis (“I keep thinking at some point there will be a reward for being so sensible,” she says). Tucker regrets not caring enough. Not only was he a prolific partier, he also managed to father a fair number of children, from a fair number of women, all of whom are equally and rightfully angry at their mostly absentee father.

Hawke is brilliant as this affable screw-up, who is haunted by his past, resents the music that made him famous, and trying his best to redeem himself with his kids to varying degrees of success. He’s the rare actor who has fully embraced his own middle age and isn’t clinging on to some notion of youth or late-in-life action stardom and the result is that he’s telling deeply interesting stories about a certain stage of life without vanity or pretention.

But while he is an essential component, it is really Byrne’s movie and she gives a winning performance as this woman who you believe has never even been asked what she wants out of life. A lesser script or actress or filmmaker might have made Annie a pathetic sad-sack, but Byrne knows that being stuck is not the same as being hopeless and her Annie is full of life and grace and empathy.

The film buzzes along with introspective conversations, all-too human moments, a terrific soundtrack with everyone from Marianne Faithfull to The Pretenders, and a few delightfully awkward scenes that really drive home the whole “don’t meet your idols” conceit. And definitely don’t idol-splain to them if you do.

“Juliet, Naked”, a Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language”. Running time: 98 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Also:

LOS ANGELES: The stormy weather in New York City dried up on Tuesday and the sun came out just in time for the premiere of “Juliet, Naked”.

A gleeful crowd gathered at the swanky Metrograph for the screening of the romantic comedy starring Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, and Chris O’Dowd.

The film, based on Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, centers on Annie (Rose), who is stuck in a failing relationship with her husband Duncan (O’Dowd). Things get complicated when Anne has an unexpected encounter with her husband’s musical obsession, an obscure rocker named Tucker Crowe (Hawke).

Byrne walked the red carpet in a stunning Dior dress as her husband Bobby Cannavale watched from the sidelines.

Byrne revealed that she had her own music obsession back in the day. Her dad took her to five Kylie Minogue concerts when she was a pre-teen. “I am from Australia and I grew up in the ‘90s with Kylie Minogue,” Byrne told Variety. “She was my pop idol. I never got backstage. I did meet her 20 years later. She couldn’t have been lovelier. I was rendered back to my 10-year-old self.”

O’Dowd was 20 years old when he met his idol.

“I got obsessed with a New York theater company called Labyrinth,” O’Dowd said. “I managed to save up enough money from my bar job to go on a flight to go and see a play. It was a theater company with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I went and got Phillip to sign my Playbill. And, then I worked with him years later. I never brought it up. I told him I had been a fan of the company, but I never told him that I had did that. It was a bit embarrassing.”

Director Jesse Peretz wasn’t an autograph hound. “The greatest parallels to Tucker Crowe for me were Big Star and Alex Chilton,” he said about the 1970s band and its lead singer. “He never disappeared, but he was always similarly an enigmatic figure. He had a diverse and weird career. People couldn’t really put their finger on him.

“I did get to see him perform, but no, sadly, I don’t really have that wiring I guess [to go to a backstage door],” Peretz added. “I keep a more respectful distance.” (Agencies)

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