By Anna Husted EBS FILM CRITIC
Critics Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen of the Filmspotting podcast have deemed this decade the “Hawkaissance” because of Ethan Hawke’s resurgence in cinema. I’m not sure if Hawke makes these movies great or if he’s just working with great filmmakers, but his movies over the past few years are all must-watches, featuring, but not limited to, “Predestination,” “Born to be Blue,” “First Reformed” and “Boyhood.”
Hawke released four films in 2018, but the hidden gem among his critically-acclaimed efforts is “Juliet, Naked,” based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name. Hawke and Hornby together in one movie seems too good to be true, and it really is. “Juliet, Naked” is mesmerizing with its simple direction yet complex characters.
Adapted for the screen by three women including Tamara Jenkins, director of 2018’s “Private Life,” “Juliet, Naked” is about a domestic partnership gone sour. Annie (Rose Byrne) and Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) have been together for more than a decade and decided early on that they would not have kids. Duncan’s No. 1 passion in life is running a forum about a washed-up singer/songwriter Tucker Crowe (Hawke). His second passion in life is TV, specifically “The Wire,” and his third passion is someone not named Annie.
On the other side of the relationship is Annie. She’s not sure what her passions are except that she now wants to have kids. She moves back to her small seaside English town when her dad gets sick, leaving her to run his museum.
When a package arrives for Duncan with no return address, all hell breaks loose. Where once was indifference and complacency now is titillation and outspokenness. This package, and all that is tied to it, delivers the much-needed punch to Duncan and Annie’s relationship and individual lives. It instigates actions that they thought were better left undone and words they have long stifled.
Hawke, Hornby and O’Dowd were the three initial reasons I watched this film, but Byrne was surprisingly magnetic. Her body language speaks volumes in this character-driven movie and her line delivery is perfect whether the hope was for us to laugh or cry.
“Juliet, Naked” now takes its place among my top 20 films of the year. It plays on a level of realism only Hornby knows how to convey. It is hysterical, calm and powerful in its presentation of relationships and inner strife. Hornby will always be a master of writing about relationships, but to see something fresh and new from him on screen was satisfying.
I cannot recommend this movie enough. Don’t let films with paltry budgets and small casts get away from your regular viewing. They can be the ones that surprise you most and they are always the ones that remind you of how simple, yet powerful, filmmaking can be.
“Juliet, Naked” is available to rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube.
Anna Husted has a master’s in film studies from New York University. In Big Sky she can be found up on the hill or at the movies at Lone Peak Cinema. When not gazing at the silver screen or watching her new favorite TV show, she’s skiing, fishing or roughhousing with her cat, Indiana Jones.