Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Juliet, Naked - a study of parenthood dressed up as treatise on modern rock fandom

When the original demo recordings for a niche alternative rock album that is only remembered by fanatics pops through the letterbox of an English seaside house, it stirs up dissatisfaction and triggers a woman to set herself free.

While Juliet, Naked could be understood as an analysis of fandom and its often tenuous relationship with truth and the artists at the heart of their fervour, its study of parenthood, and the longing for parenthood, is probably richer.

Annie (played by Rose Byrne) is trapped in a relationship that has been going nowhere for 15 years. Her housemate and supposed partner is a selfish Irish academic who pontificates about modern television in a media studies course run by the local new university. Prolonged email exchanges with Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), the supposedly seminal artist who recorded the Juliet album before disappearing off the pop parade, develop into honest exchanges about their life and times. 

It’s neither a mere vehicle for O’Dowd’s comic delivery nor a pity piece about Annie. While the director does unnecessarily parade Byrne around in her underwear, it never repeats this mistake and generally treats Annie as intelligent and increasingly in control of her destiny.

Don’t be put off by the film’s title: ‘naked’ refers to the nature of the stripped back demo tracks. Some strong language is the only reason for the 15 certificate. It’s otherwise shot like a 12A, with the scene of Tucker Crowe’s unexpected extended family reunion in a London hospital played as a gentle catastrophe rather than being milked for every last emotional twist.

Hawke significantly dials down his character’s star power. When she meets the reclusive musician, Byrne quickly gets the giggly nervousness over with and demonstrates the inner compassionate that has already been set up with her caring relationship for her younger sister and the big child-of-an-ex-boyfriend she used to live with.
“Who’s mum are you again?” / “I’m nobody’s.”

The multiple infatuations, the tender way the emotional heartstrings are barely pulled leaves the audience lots of space to rise above the paraphrased Nick Hornby novel and some of the cinematic clich├ęs (moving out of your home while torrential rain beats down on your belongings?) to realise that this is a story about a child who’s absent from the cast list but shapes at least one of the main character’s sense of being.

It’s harder to imagine a better companion piece to Stacey Gregg’s Choices which looks at reproductive justice and includes commentary on childlessness. The lure of a schmaltzy ending is mercifully avoided. (Tonight at The MAC is your last chance to hear Gregg’s performance for a while.)

Juliet, Naked is still being screened in most big cinema chains.

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