In “Juliet Naked”, Chris O’Dowd plays Duncan who is folk rocker Tucker Crowe’s biggest fan. Every word he speaks is about Tucker Crowe. Every discussion leads to Tucker this and Tucker that. His man cave is blanketed in Tucker Crowe photos and posters. He even runs a fan site for Crowe. He worships Tucker, but no surprise there since Tucker is portrayed by Ethan Hawke.
In the past few years Ethan Hawke has been on a career high, and 2018 is no exception. 2018 brought his first full action film in “24 Hours To Live”. He has garnered Oscar nomination talk that is well deserved in one of the very best films of the year. Hawke plays a deeply conflicted priest in Paul Schrader’s stunning, harsh and brilliant “First Reformed”. Here comes Ethan Hawke again starring in his second best film of the year. “Juliet Naked” reminds us he’s one of the most natural and versatile film actors. “Juliet Naked” gives us his most charming film performance to date.
The light and breezy pop music confection “Juliet, Naked”, joins the ranks of “Begin Again” and “Hearts Beat Loud”. Director Jesse Peretz who hasn’t directed a film since 2011’s “My Idiot Brother”, adapts the author of “High Fidelity”, “Fever Pitch” and “About A Boy”, Nick Hornsby’s novel “Juliet Naked”. Ethan Hawke plays an all but forgotten singer songwriter named Tucker Crowe, who garnered rave reviews and modestly successful commercial success with one album titled “Juliet”, in the early 1990s. One night halfway through a gig at a Minneapolis club called The Pit, Tucker suddenly and mysteriously vanished. Despite getting out of the limelight, Tucker’s legend lives on for a small circle of a few hundred loyal fans who flock to a website devoted to all things Tucker Crowe. This is where Chris O’Dowd’s character Duncan comes into play. He is perfectly cast as the obnoxious super fan and blogger behind the Tucker Crowe fan site.
I’m not sure what Duncan loves more? The music of Tucker Crowe, the sound of his own voice when he speaks about Tucker, calling him the most underappreciated figure in rock ‘n’ roll, or when he is teaching classes dissecting the HBO series “The Wire” and the role of the Alienated Male in Modern American Cinema. Coming in a third on his priority List is Duncan’s girlfriend of the last 15 years, Annie (Rose Byrne “Neighbors” and “Instant Family”). Duncan certainly isn’t deserving of Annie because he pays more attention to anything Tucker Crowe than he does with Annie. That’s really unfortunate because Annie is a real catch, she is lovely, beautiful and sweet and has a quiet but wicked sense of humor. When someone sends Duncan a CD titled “Juliet, Naked,” an undiscovered demo of unfinished versions of the songs that would eventually appear on the “Juliet” album, it leads Annie who’s never been a fan of Tucker, by connecting via email and eventually in person with none other than the real Tucker Crowe.
The infamous rocker has been living in obscurity in the garage behind the house occupied by his ex-wife, while trying to be a good parent to their 6-year-old son Jackson. Oh but wait, there’s more than one ex and more than one child. Tucker has spent much of his time abusing substances, messing up romantic relationships and being an absentee father to his multiple children. But now he’s cleaned up his act and is trying. Now think how excited Duncan would be to learn his idol is alive and has struck up a friendship with his soon to be ex girlfriend Annie.
Screenwriters Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins have done a great job of capturing Hornby’s natural ear for dialogue and romantic comedy situations. “Juliet Naked” isn’t about Tucker or Duncan’s story, it’s Annie’s story. “40 Year Old Virgin” and “This Is 40” writer and director Judd Apatow serves as producer and helps keep the characters remain believable throughout and keeps an unforced quality that is fresh and original, and the cast simply couldn’t’ be better. Because he plays a musician we get to hear Ethan Hawke sing and, as we heard in the Chet Baker biopic “Born To Be Blue”, he’s quite good.
Hawke slips ever so comfortably into a persona he’s owned over the years. The script and novel it’s based on is smart and both Ethan Hawke and Rose Byrne are charming on their own and when they are together on screen. One of the year’s best films.
GRADE: ★★★★ (4) / ★★★★★ (5) Ethan Hawke