For 25 years, Tucker Crowe has lived a life away from the music business. His only album, Juliet, was a critically acclaimed release in the 1990s. An English fine arts professor named Duncan Thomson is one of the album's biggest fans, and runs a Crowe fan website, offering theories for Crowe's absence and insisting that Juliet is woefully underrated. In Juliet, Naked, Duncan (Chris O'Dowd), receives a CD with that title from a fellow Crowe fan, which contains acoustic renditions of the Juliet album. Before he can have a listen, Duncan's longtime domestic partner, Annie Platt (Rose Byrne), opens the package and plays the CD for herself. She doesn't understand Duncan's obsession with the album, which was based on a broken relationship the singer had experienced. She then lets her feelings be known on Duncan's website under an assumed identity. Her comments get the attention of Tucker (Ethan Hawke), who e-mails Annie and asks for her discretion. Tucker, in fact, would like to meet Annie, as he's planning to visit England with his son Jackson (Azhy Robertson). Tucker's daughter Lizzie (Ayoola Smart) is about to make Tucker a grandfather. Before the trip, Annie comes clean about her review, which upsets Duncan.
Tucker's arrival in England, though, takes a detour when he suffers a mild heart attack at the airport. Once stabilized under medical care, Tucker contacts Annie to let her know what happened. She comes to London, and meets many of Tucker's children and former partners, most of whom couldn't care less about him - unless he dies. Once he is discharged, Tucker and Jackson come to see Annie in Sandcliff, where she she has worked as the curator of a museum where her late father had served in the same capacity. Tucker would like to stay in this seaside town for a while to continue his recovery. While father, son, and Annie are at the beach, Duncan comes upon them, and at first doesn't believe that he is in the presence of Tucker. They later sit down for supper, and start to tell the stories of their lives. As they talk, Annie starts to ponder if the life she said she enjoyed with Duncan was still the case. She gets the impetus to make changes when Duncan reveals that he has slept with fellow professor Gina (Denise Gough).
Juliet, Naked is based on a book by Nick Hornby, and is an entertaining look at the decisions people make, and the life that ensues. At the start of the film, the three main characters have settled into familiar patterns. One by one, they reevaluate decisions they made when they were in their twenties. They then stray from their routines, and see the potential for something more rewarding when they do. Each change comes with a risk, as they step from an established safety zone. As much as I enjoyed this movie, I think this story growing up and growing older was told better in High Fidelity, another movie based on Hornby's work. In that 2000 release, a young record store owner goes on a crazy quest to examine his failed relationships, and makes a surprising discovery. Annie, Duncan, and Tucker make their journeys in a most conventional way. Director Jesse Peretz works more in television than on film, but I did like his last two theatrical efforts (Our Idiot Brother in 2011 and The Ex in 2006). Peretz has a solid team writing the adaptation, including his sister Evgenia, Tamara Jenkins (who's written and directed some good work herself, including The Savages), and Jenkins's husband, Jim Taylor, who has frequently worked with Alexander Payne to great success and one Oscar (for Sideways).
The movie also benefits from three very good lead performances. Byrne gives the most touching of the three as Annie, who expected to grow old with Duncan. Annie had been content to live a child-free life and be the keeper of Sandcliff history. Even before Duncan reveals what he has done, she starts to feel a bond with Jackson, and wonders if she can still have motherhood in her life. Byrne gives looks to suggest that Annie wishes she could pick up and go to America with the boy and his father, in spite of Tucker's personal baggage. Hawke's Tucker meant to come to England primarily to reconnect with family and to change his ways, but he unexpectedly struck a chord with someone who shares his lack of interest in his own music. Hawke even shows off his singing skills during a museum function where the Sandcliff mayor exaggerates Tucker's career highlights. O'Dowd has the movie's best comic moments as Duncan, the obsessed fan who stands by his love of Juliet, even though Tucker thinks the release is overrated. His funniest scene comes with his last appearance as he shares new news about Tucker with his followers.
In Juliet, Naked, a musician breaks his silence about his music, and meets a couple who find themselves on opposing sides regarding his career. As he makes changes to the way he has lived his life, the couple he meets finds they aren't the people they once were. One act in their lives comes to a close, but another act begins. None of them are sure that their new act will be better than the previous one, but each sees a different future than the one they envisioned when they entered adulthood.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Juliet, Naked three stars. Time to sing a new tune.
Juliet, Naked trailer
© 2018 Pat Mills