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'Juliet, Naked': Anatomy of a Triangle

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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Ethan Hawke's Tucker Crowe in Jesse Peretz's intelligent, seriocomic "Juliet, Naked," had me thinking back to 1969 when, during a hiccup in my education, I visited my best friend, rock 'n' roller Howard "Richard" Tepp, in Malibu. It was the era of free love and, like the fictitious Tucker Crowe, Howie, through the cooperation of some enthusiastic groupies, had strewn the landscape with several progenies. The other similarity between the two is the cult following that grew out of their brief stardom.
 
Fact is, throughout history, there have been many such multi-pollinating troubadours who, intentionally or not, have substituted legacies of their DNA for the long-lasting career success that, alas, had eluded them. The syndrome, fraught with repercussion and cause for moral scrutiny, is little studied. But if some university ever offers a three credit course in "The Assuaging of Guilt and Ethical Responsibility of the Former Male Rock Star to the Children he Fathered While on Tour," "Juliet, Naked" would be an apt part of the syllabus.
 
Living in upstate New York in a garage behind the home of the last lady to collaborate with him, the arrangement strictly Platonic now, Tucker has ostensibly retired from the fires of his spring to help raise their young son, Jackson (Azhy Robertson). There, in autumnal repose he unintentionally embodies a Salinger-like mystery via an internet full of speculating, diehard fans and, judging by Jackson's adulation, has been successful in his self-defined stab at redemption.
 
But of course, the destinies of the film's main characters can't wait to upset this applecart.
 
Across the pond in a seaside enchantment, museum curator Annie, portrayed with a troubled but sweet resolve by Rose Byrne, has pretty much had it up to her fish and chips with Tucker Crowe. Oh, the cognizance is entirely tangential. You see, her beau Duncan, doubtlessly the chief reason for the stagnancy in their childless, 15-year relationship, is a rabid aficionado of the singer-songwriter — a veritable repository of minutiae both gossipy and presumably erudite. Aside from his pretentions as an instructor at the local college, his every moment is devoted to idolization.
 
Thus it only makes coincidentally ironic sense that, in sarcastically chiming in on a blog specifically to contradict her Crowe-obsessed steady, Annie wins the rare attention of the man himself. It pleasing his sense of self-effacement, Tucker finds her honest and astutely refreshing. And, after what one can assume is deemed a reasonable time insofar as internet tête-à-têtes go, to continue a family tradition he'll soon be visiting London to welcome his illegitimate daughter Lizzie's (Ayoola Smart) imminently expected love child. Can they meet for coffee?
 
What follows, my American ear sometimes compromised by proper British accents, is a witty stitching of telling moments that quietly wins our attention. The fortunes of the ensuing triangle's principals collide in a unique meld of both the cerebral and the jocular. In entertaining contradiction to the happenstance tacitly claiming to be the root of all human dilemma, Annie's near fatalistic acceptance of things suggests that before the closing credits roll, yin and yang are going to have a bit of a donnybrook. It's free will vs. accepting what you get.
 
Translation: It's a love story, but a hesitant one worried about all the baggage Cupid must drag over the finish line if the fabled musician and the modest docent are to sail off into the sunset. We have hope, but also allow for the possibility that reality will rear its devastating head. Then again, with Tucker as the catalyst, Annie, suddenly able to dream again, is able to admit she's been living a dead end. And Tucker has certainly experienced enough of life to have acquired the wisdom that's supposed to come of it. The seventh or eighth time is a charm, n'est-ce pas?
 
Still again, there are those 3,000 miles and completely diverse lifestyles to consider. And gosh knows, what with unaccounted-for offspring regularly showing up on Tucker's doorstep, what other surprises await? So your sense of romanticism is called to duty, conscripted to join history's pantheon of poets and philosophers in their ceaseless mulling of civilization's greatest question: Does love indeed conquer all? Just to throw us through a loop or two while we're trying to guess how it'll all turn out, director Peretz exercises a mischievous set of twists.
 
If you have ever been in love, y'know, the kind that makes you feel sorry for everyone who has never had the same exultant feeling of certainty and well-being, Byrne and Crowe's potential lovers offer a nice reminder of that feeling undefinable other than by dramatic example.
 
And if you have never had such good fortune, but think you might like to one day, "Juliet, Naked" also lays bare the inherent stumbling blocks and compromises sure to be unavoidable in your quest.
 
"Juliet, Naked," rated R, is a Lionsgate release directed by Jesse Peretz and stars Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O'Dowd. Running time: 105 minutes

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