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Movie review: Juliet, Naked

Juliet, Naked — Running Time: 1:45 — Rating: R
“Juliet, Naked” blooms slowly in the hands of four appealing performers who work with a thoroughly oddball plot. As they develop their characters, the movie turns into a genuinely pleasant trip.
The title is the name of a play by songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) who disappeared 20 years ago at the height of his career. Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) has covered the wall of his study with pictures and articles about his songster hero. When a CD by the lost singer arrives in the mail, Duncan is enthralled while Annie (Rose Byrne), his housemate, thinks the song is ludicrous — enough so that she sits down and writes a negative review to Tucker Crowe who is intrigued and responds.
As we meet them early on, none of the three is especially happy. Tucker, in recovery from two decades of alcoholism, is being nice to a bevy of women and the children he fathered with them. Annie is disappointed in life with Duncan who seems interested primarily in himself and in his passion for Tucker Crowe’s music. Tucker is atoning for his past by being a genuinely kind father to Jackson (Azhy Robertson), a bright, interesting little boy who loves him. As this reformed fellow tries to figure out what to do with the rest of his life, we follow the gang with increasing interest.
Because it’s clear that these adults haven’t the faintest idea of how to design new lives, we settle in to enjoy them for who they are. Byrne makes Annie a kind woman living with a man she doesn’t much care about. Hawke wraps Tucker in the confusion of looking up the women and children of his dalliances. O’Dowd sets Duncan in a pleasant but boring cloud of confusion.
If all this sounds dull, it isn’t. Once we understand that these three have no idea of how to redesign their lives in middle-age, we begin to enjoy their search. There’s not a villain in the bunch and we begin to understand them and root for them in their dilemmas. The one who doesn’t need our help is Robertson’s Jackson who is thoroughly happy just to be living with the father who loves him while he peppers the movie with intriguing questions and observations.
O’Dowd builds a nutty professor with an odd passion without alienating the audience while Byrne paints a touching portrait of someone who thinks she should be happy but isn’t. In a nice footnote, if you wonder why Byrne is always carrying something in front of her or wearing flowing clothes, the reason is, of course, that she is pregnant in real life.
Hawke creates a thoroughly appealing nutcase who did all kinds of bad things while he was drinking and now is open to his new life as long as nothing takes him away from his son Jackson. The movie is an appealing slice of the change of direction that is such a hallmark of middle-age.
— Reviewed by Joan Ellis

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