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With: Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd, Ethan Hawke, Megan Dodds, Jimmy O. Yang, Lily Newmark, Lily Brazier, Johanna Thea, Azhy Robertson
Written by: Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor, Tamara Jenkins, based on a novel by Nick Hornby
Directed by: Jesse Peretz
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 105
Date: 08/17/2018

Juliet, Naked (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

As the Crowe Flies

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on a novel by Nick Hornby and veering close to High Fidelity music nerd territory, this romantic drama is slight and narrow in scope, but its performers are dedicated and its passions run deep.

In Juliet, Naked, cultural arts professor Duncan (Chris O'Dowd) runs a web forum dedicated to an obscure American alternative musician Tucker Crowe whose 1993 album Juliet Duncan considers a masterpiece. Meanwhile, his longtime girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne) is stuck running a museum left to her by her father, and putting up with her boyfriend's obsession. When a package containing a mysterious, early version of the album called Juliet, Naked arrives, Annie listens to it before Duncan.

Duncan is furious, and even more so when Annie posts a negative review of it on the forum. Weirdly, she receives a message from none other than Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) himself, telling her he agrees with her. They begin to correspond regularly, unloading their troubles on each other. When Duncan announces that he's having an affair, Annie leaves him and becomes even closer with Tucker. But what happens when Duncan finds out about her new friend?

Older viewers that remember falling in love with an album well before the days of MP3s or streaming music services will identify with these lovable misfits. Juliet, Naked is not a story of dreams coming true, but of learning to let go of the past, or perhaps learning which parts of the past to let go of. The movie gets points for humanizing its rock 'n' roll star, and for Hawke's all-too-human portrayal of him. He's a mess, and the links between his music and his mistakes are easy to see.

Juliet, Naked also creates, in its margins, a roster of younger characters coming of age in this weird, complicated world. This movie doesn't simply take place in a vacuum, focused on three souls only. It exists in a world where consequences ring far and wide. The music is, of course, important for holding everything together, and a sequence in which Tucker Crowe performs The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" is a true beauty.

Jesse Peretz (First Love, Last Rites) directs with a surprising non-slapsticky softness of touch, similar to his wonderful Our Idiot Brother, and the screenplay is co-written by such humanists as filmmaker Tamara Jenkins (The Savages) and Oscar-winner Jim Taylor (Sideways).

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release looks and sounds terrific, but the only extra is a 10-minute, behind-the-scenes featurette. The set also includes a digital copy, and some trailers at startup.

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