Director: Jesse Peretz
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne
Watch Juliet, Naked online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“Every day I look at the world from my window…” sang The Kinks in Waterloo Sunset, a song partly about someone watching a young couple with dreams of going off to start a new life together. It’s a sweet, sad number, and it’s all too fitting that it should come to be the defining track of Juliet, Naked, a warm, melancholic piece about a musician who has nothing to do with The Kinks whatsoever.
That musician is Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), a minor songwriter who now lives firmly out of the spotlight. Nonetheless, he has a small following of fervent fans who are convinced that he’s an unsung genius of his time, akin to a Bob Dylan in waiting or the next John Lennon. They chat online to discuss lyrics, chord changes, recordings and theories of what he’s doing now.
That group is led by Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), whose obsession is tolerated with no small amount of patience by his girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne). But by a weird quirk of fate, they end up swapping letters, finding much in common. And when he winds up nearby to her, they agree to meet.
It’s the kind of set-up that sounds like a contrived rom-com, but Juliet, Naked works because it roots everything the malaise of everyday mundanity. Annie is frustrated with her life, while Tucker is trying to escape his (full of ex-partners and estranged children). She doesn’t like his music that much; he doesn’t really care for it anymore. Their mutual disaffection are a match made in heaven.
Out of that disillusionment springs an unexpected well of hope and it’s that juggling of the naive optimism of new romance and the boredom of disappointment that makes both moods so vivid and real. O’Dowd plays things broadly amusing but also pathetically petulant enough to ring true, while Byrne proves herself effortlessly versatile in bringing together the excitement and ennui of the film’s dual strands. And, between them, Hawke is gruffly charming as a loser whose life is the opposite of Searching for Sugarman – a vibe captured with well observed details by director Jesse Peretz and screenwriters Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins. This is a world where people say things like “art isn’t for the artist any more than water is for the plumber” with a straight face, where listening to a rare recording of favourite singer before your partner is the greatest possible betrayal and where regrets and passion, nostalgia and second chances fuse together into a groove that’s all too relatable – a dirty old river that must keep rolling into the night.
Juliet, Naked is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
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