Jesse Peretz'Juliet, Naked makes a break with the other entries in the Sydney Film Festival. It’s a thoroughly likeable, thoroughly approachable movie. Producer Judd Apatow and novelist Nick Hornby are a perfect match and they have a superior cast and crew serving their needs.
In bleak Broadstairs, Kent, things are not all that well with Annie (Rose Byrne). After a brief taste of the outside world at London University, she’s stuck with running her father’s sea side museum where the major attraction is the pickled eye of a stranded whale. Husband Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is more interested in the chat room society devoted to his one-time pop star idol Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) than he is to producing babies. Also the spunky teacher trainee in his class is pondering his suggestion that she should study “Antigone” to understand The Wire.
Through a plausible set of circumstances Annie gets to meet Crowe, now only represented to his fans by a suspect photo of a white bearded recluse. Turns out Tucker is trailing ex-wives and their children who resent never having met their siblings.
The drama is spaced by nice moments - Tucker’s little boy is captivated by the prospect of the whale eye, the eighty-five year old woman looks at herself in the Mayor’s 1964 exhibition photo of the day she was nearly led astray and remarks wistfully she never did get to be led astray.
|Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd, Juliet Naked|
This sets up a number of stand-out scenes. Tucker’s anguish over his train wreck relationships is met by Annie’s “Do you know what I would do for a couple of angry kids?” When confronted by Duncan’s shrine room filled with Tucker Crowe memorabilia Tucker explodes “That’s a photo of my high school chess club!” Duncan fails to recognize his idol on the beach and when they finally get to share a meal he’s shattered by his dismissive “It’s not worth the effort” coming back. “It is to me”. The actor manages to make the moment genuinely poignant rather than just another laugh.
Tucker, recruited against Annie’s protests to do a number at the exhibition, launching into “Waterloo Sunset” at the key boards is perfectly judged by Hawke. The blog post that shares space with the end titles rounds out these elements nicely.
Personally I rate Dean Parisot’s 1999 Galaxy Quest as a better take on fandom but this is a film that genuinely achieves charm. In the festival audience vote it should top the poll the way Bend It Like Beckham did.
The film should also elevate director Jesse Peretz from the limbo of TV episodes and make a comfortable sum in Dendy-Palace land if not the major multiplexes.
However, I sat there thinking that, long ago, this festival was the context in which I saw Ashes and Diamonds, Seven Samurai and Ivan the Terrible. I know about the generational view and the notion that the work from distant youth surpasses recent efforts but I still wonder will any of the films in this event have the impact of those? Has the Sydney Film Festival net lost the ability to scoop up such material or has this stopped being produced?
Given the chance I would have expected the system to single out titles like Jaco Van Dormer’s Le tout nouveau testament/The Brand New Testament, Feng Xiaogang’s Aftershock/Tangshan dadizhen or Duprat & Cohen’s El ciudadano ilustre/The Distinguished Citizen but that doesn’t seem to be happening. The Dark Knight and Spirited Away more likely.