Courtesy of Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate
Ethan Hawke is playing a rockstar in the new romantic comedy “Juliet, Naked.”
That hook alone should be enough to fill seats, but Hawke isn’t playing your standard musician this time around. He’s playing a washed-up, has-been singer named Tucker Crowe - the type of persona whose heyday was during a blimp in the 80s’. He ain't got much to show for his career. No Grammys, or inductions into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Just a few decent records, a slew of kids out of wedlock, and an album called “Juliet” which is considered to be his best.
Crowe is idolized via an online website run by superfan Duncan (A very funny Chris O’Dowd) who often neglects his girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne - terrific) in lieu of all the crazy theories surrounding Crowe’s removal from the music scene, and his mild, yet, manic obsession with the famous rocker.
Out of the blue, Duncan receives a package in the mail with a hashed-up demo featuring rejected songs from “Juliet” entitled “Juliet, Naked.” These new songs become a pathos for Duncan, but their quite the opposite for Annie, who can’t wait to rid Crowe of the earth, and her eardrums, for good.
In a fun turn of events, Annie receives an email from Crowe himself (after she writes a harsh comment online, criticizing his unreleased relic) and the two strike up an instantaneous, across the globe, pen pal relationship. He in New Jersey looking after one of his (many) kids. And her in London running and curating a local art museum.
Two people that should've never connected but end up falling for each other is nothing new. But the real twist lies with Duncan standing in the middle of the relationship and O’Dowd plays those scenes perfectly.
Plus Hawke (who is already having a solid year) shows real depth and layers as Crowe. Blending charm with passion is something rarely seen from the performer these days. And after the intense and brooding “First Reformed” it’s nice to see Hawke let loose and just have fun. Him and Byrne have a compelling relationship which director Jesse Peretz amps up nicely.
While the final act is a bit messy in comparison to author Nick Hornby’s previous adaptations (“About A Boy” and “High Fidelity”) And Peretz seems to struggle, at times, with aspects of the storytelling (It gets confusing figuring out whose story needs to be told). Nor does it leave any finality in regards to Annie and Crowe as a couple. But if you can get past those minor inconsistencies, a wholesome and screwball comedy waits on the other side.