My daughter Elissa and I met this afternoon at Bookhouse Cinema, Joplin’s wonderful indie theater. The newly released film, Juliet, Naked, was playing and both of us wanted to see it.
This romantic comedy stars Chris O’Dowd, Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Lily Brazier. Juliet, Naked, directed by Jesse Peretz, is based on the Nick Hornby novel by the same name. It carries an R rating, for language and adult themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Annie (Byrne) lives a careful life in a small English sea side town. She runs the local historical museum, a job she inherited from her father, interacts with her spirited sister Ros (Brazier), and feels more and more confined in her relationship with her boyfriend.
Annie and Duncan (O’Dowd) have lived together for 15 years. He teaches classic literature and American films at a nearby college. However his passion, which borders on obsession, is with an obscure US singer and song writer, Tucker Crowe (Hawke). It matters not that Crowe hasn’t performed in years or released new albums. Duncan collects facts, posters and demos and hosts an online site devoted to the elusive singer and his die hard fans.
Too Small a Story
Duncan’s obsession over the rocker is too small a story for Annie to live and thrive in. Chafing within the confinement she’s helped to create, Annie considers having children as a way to expand her life. And then life itself intervenes. An acoustical demo arrives, of Crowe’s early hit Juliet, Naked. Annie attempts to dampen Duncan’s over-the-top enthusiasm for the demo by writing a less than complimentary review of the song, which she posts to his website.
To her surprise, her comments draw a response from the artist himself, who agrees with her statements. Annie and Tucker begin a transatlantic correspondence that deepens day by day. They share openly and honestly about the disappointments and challenges each has experienced the past twenty years.
When Tucker seizes an opportunity to fly to London, he and Annie arrange to meet. Communicating via email and text was easy. In person, life is messier and people and relationships are more complicated. There is much to discover and sort out as new connections are created.
Familiar Story with a Fresh Feel
Juliet, Naked is most definitely a romantic comedy, with an emphasis on the comedic element. Chris O’Dowd, with his strange and singular focus on another man’s life, caused me to laugh out loud numerous times.
This film manages to go beyond the rom com label however. It offers a sincere glimpse at what a stuck life can look like and feel like. All of the characters are caught in small stories of their own making, and challenged to free themselves.
As the film’s storyline unfolds, with strong performances by Byrne and Hawke that balance O’Dowd’s humor, the characters grow in awareness and depth. They figure their crap out…or at least, they begin to. And they realize that past decisions shaped their lives, but new choices shift the future. Bigger stories to live in are possible. It’s up to each person to create them.
This movie can be summed up well by a quote from an older character in the film, Edna. During a museum exhibition, she looks at an old photo of herself with friends and shares, “[This] was George. He was a fast worker. He wanted a bit of fun. I wish I did too, but I fought him off. I thought, ‘Edna, you can never go wrong not doing something. It’s the things that you do that get you into trouble.’ Here I am 84 years old and I’ve never been in trouble in my whole bloody life. Goddammit!”
It’s the things you do that you remember and the things you don’t do that you regret.
Juliet, Naked is the kind of movie that I deeply enjoy…funny, sweet, and insightful with characters that open up, explore who they are, and grow as they learn. I left the theater appreciating this indie film and it’s message of creating a bigger life.