Directed by Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother, Girls), Juliet, Naked tells the story of Annie (Rose Byrne), a young woman stuck in a dead-end, long-term relationship with an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s hit record from 25 years ago surfaces, its release leads Annie to a life-changing encounter with the elusive rocker himself.
Based on the book by Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked fits well into his repertoire by discovering the film’s soul within the heart of music. Like other entries into his canon such as About a Boy or High Fidelity, Juliet searches for life’s meaning through the relationship between love and song. Somewhat ironically, while the film’s title stems from the name of Crowe’s acoustic album, the film features very little music but, rather, puts the focus on the meaning behind the artist more than his art.
While performances by Rose Byrne and the entire cast are strong, the standout of the film remains Hawke as the mysteriously malfunctioning Crowe. Burnt out and broken, Crowe is a man who struggles to accept responsibility as he floats somewhat aimlessly through his life. In many ways, Crowe could be the modern-day vision of Hawke’s iconic Troy Dyer from 1994’s Reality Bites as he looks back on his recklessness with regret and pain. However, like Dyer, Crowe is also charismatic, despite his flaws. With Hawke’s ability to imbue even the most damaged characters with empathy, Crowe is both charming and elusive. He is broken but we view him with hope.
Interestingly, one of the key elements to Crowe’s backstory lies in the identity of Grace, a shadowy woman from his past. At the mere mention of her name, Crowe bristles with anxiety, revealing a pain deeper than the rest. Is she a former lover? A long-lost family member? Until her identity is eventually revealed, the audience watches as Crowe does everything in his power to forget her and move on. Despite his many mistakes and broken relationships that he has left in his wake, hers is the name that terrifies him the most.
As a result, the identity of this stranger leads to a beautiful conflict within Crowe. As he seeks to avoid confronting Grace, we also recognize that her name has thematic significance as well. For Crowe, redemption and healing are out of reach. To him, his life has yet to experience the concept of grace in a way that carries any meaning for him. Even more so, just like Grace herself, he continues to run from it. Although Annie recognizes his value stems from more than his music, Crowe struggles to accept the one thing that he fears the most… grace itself. In other words, Crowe’s inability to face his past (or himself) appears to stem from the idea that he somehow does not deserve forgiveness from his indiscretions. Like many of us, his hurt feels overwhelming with grace unable to tip the balance. (Though, isn’t that the very nature of Divine grace? That we are worthy to be loved despite our brokenness?)
It should be noted that, despite these explorations of Crowe’s brokenness, Juliet, Naked is actually fairly light-hearted in tone. While the film does paint a portrait of a man in desperate need of healing, Hawke’s charm, Byrne’s endearing nature and some solid laughs from supporting characters give the film the energy it needs. In the end, however, the soul of the film lies in a man who is running from grace.
Juliet, Naked is in theatres on Friday, August 31st, 2018.