JULIET, NAKED (2018, R, 105 minutes, APATOW PRODUCTIONS/LIONSGATE)
As my regular thirteen readers can attest, I DO NOT have a great deal of love for Ethan Hawke. Besides TRAINING DAY, the last film I actually enjoyed that he starred in was 1985’s EXPLORERS. He was a kid back then.
Harsh? Perhaps. But he’s always just so…Ethan Hawkish. And most of his films just don’t gel with me. I also never cared much for Tom Cruise, but I had to change that view when he allowed himself to get killed over and over for EDGE OF TOMORROW. And now, with JULIET, NAKED, I may have to change my dislike for Mr. Hawke.
While the film isn’t great, his performance (Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus, how it pains me to say this…) is. As faded rock star Tucker Crowe, Mr. Hawke fits the role perfectly. He is disheveled, unsure of himself, and a complete mess when it comes to dealing with his various children. And, on occasion, he can sing. Like, actually sing well. There are moments his voice sounds faulty, yet that seems to be more of a comedic aspect than it does an actual fault of his. (All this Hawke love is making me feel nauseous.)
JULIET isn’t about a seminal character named “Juliet”; the film stars Rose Byrne as Annie Platt, a woman whose boyfriend Duncan (the spot-on Chris O’Dowd) has a fixation on Crowe that has lasted decades. He even hosts a website and a blog concerning all things regarding Crowe and his short-lived music career. Eventually, his fixation, already a sore spot with Annie, leads to a breakup after he vehemently disagrees with Annie’s online assessment of a newly discovered Crowe album.
It is her review of the “new” material which brings Crowe himself to email her, thus beginning an email friendship which blossoms into more once they finally meet. So, basically, girl loves boy, girl breaks up with boy, girl falls for boy’s rock idol. This film is based on the book of the same name by British author Nick Hornby, but unlike his other adapted works (HIGH FIDELITY, ABOUT A BOY), this interpretation falls a bit flat. There are, of course, certain predictable rom-com elements which occur almost naturally—basically, the same trappings you wish wouldn’t happen all the time. The fact that it took three writers to produce the screenplay could be telling, as only one of them have had experience adapting a novel to the screen. Some of Hornby’s quick wit is obviously on display, but not enough to make it nearly as funny as the other adaptations.
Also, director Jesse Peretz hasn’t directed anything for the big screen since 2006’s low grossing THE EX. He’s been busy directing plenty of TV, and a lot of it pretty darned well (“Orange is the New Black”, “Girls”, “Nurse Jackie”, and the outstanding “GLOW”). But this feels more like an exercise in repeated motion—like he’s repeating other director’s motions. There isn’t a whole lot new here, despite how good the source material may be.
The cast itself is great; Lily Brazier, as Annie’s brazen lesbian sister Ros, is a delightful yet under-used gem, and Azhy Robertson as Jackson, one of Crowe’s children, is a gifted young actor who brightens many of the scenes he is in. O’Dowd, as mentioned earlier, is great. His comedic timing has never been better, and gets the most laughs here. But ultimately, it is Mr. Hawke who steals the spotlight (seriously, this is causing me actual pain now…).
Despite the marvelous cast, it isn’t quite enough to keep the film moving at an even flow. Some of the jokes become predictable, as do some of the scenarios. Which is a shame, considering that if I’m going to go through this much trouble enjoying a performance by the same guy that thought SINISTER was a swell idea, I should at least really like the film he’s in.
Film Grade: C+