Ah, what a breath of fresh air! Juliet, Naked is a charming and funny romantic drama that is pure and simple in its development of characters and story. In lesser hands, it might have felt like a Hallmark or Lifetime ‘second chance’ romance. But Juliet, Naked benefits from the talent and affability of its three lead actors – Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke. The screenplay is adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby (Brooklyn, About a Boy, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity) whose writing style lends itself well to the genre. There aren’t any real villains here; just humans wrestling with past regrets and coming to terms with who they are and who they want to be.

Here’s the gist: Annie (Byrne, Peter Rabbit, X-Men, Neighbors) is a woman approaching middle-age who’s been stuck in a dead-end relationship for years with Duncan, a self-absorbed academic (O’Dowd, Love After Love, Bridesmaids) who happens to be obsessed with an obscure rocker from the 90s named Tucker Crowe (Hawke, First Reformed, Maggie’s Plan, Before Sunrise). Duncan runs a fan blog for Crowe devotees who spend countless hours dissecting and debating Crowe’s seminal album, “Juliet”. Annie has supported, or at least tolerated Duncan’s obsession, until a CD (labeled “Juliet, Naked”) arrives in the mail that contains never-before-heard acoustic demos and unfinished songs from the “Juliet” album. Duncan thinks the music is brilliant; Annie disagrees. Obviously, she just doesn’t ‘get it’… or does she?

Annie shares her dissenting opinion on Duncan’s blog and it catches the eye of none other than Tucker Crowe himself. The two develop a trans-atlantic pen pal relationship via email (he’s living in an ex’s garage in the States; Annie lives in a coastal town in England). The pair finally meet when Crowe has reason to visit London, and of course, there’s an attraction. But it doesn’t take the worn-out path of lame miscues and will-they-or-wont-they shenanigans; the drama unfolds with honesty and humor and caution, as we gradually learn why Crowe stopped performing and has been off the grid for 25 years.

Juliet, Naked features a pleasant soundtrack that includes new music written by Ryan Adams, Robyn Hitchcock, Nathan Larson and Conor Oberst. For some reason, the film is rated R. It’s a very tame R by today’s standards! I highly recommend Juliet, Naked for anyone in the mood for a low-key romantic comedy/drama that tugs gently on the heartstrings and ends on a satisfying (not cheesy) high note.

Arty Chick’s take: I enjoyed this one, too. I love that Crow (Hawke) is realistically human, and not the aging rocker still yearning for his glory days. And that the the romance develops so naturally and believably. I’m looking forward to seeing it again on a streaming service. It’s that kind of film.

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