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Ethan Hawke’s ‘Juliet, Naked’ peels away the facade

Ethan Hawke, whom I first noticed as the beleaguered cop playing alongside Denzel Washington in “Training Day,” has whetted my cinematic appetite in other films, as well. I have watched Hawke’s portrayal of Chet Baker in “Born to Be Blue,” which was a re-imagining comeback story of the late Jazz great, and in “The Magnificent Seven” (also with Washington) and “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman). I like his work enough to be intrigued by his character in this latest film “Juliet, Naked.”

Hawke plays Tucker Crowe, a reportedly washed-up indie rock musician from the 90s who has hidden himself away in Minnesota. He lives in an ex-wife’s garage, while helping to raise his youngest son, Jackson. Tucker has a moderate fan base, even though he walked away from a concert—not to be heard from again. His online fan club is headed by Duncan (played by Chris O’Dowd), who is a college professor in the outskirts of London who teaches acting theory while assigning episodes of “The Wire” to classmates and whose obsession with Tucker is taking over his life. He lives with his girlfriend Annie, (played by Rose Byrne), who runs a vintage museum, but also feels neglected by Duncan—because his entire life’s being is anchored upon his love of all things Tucker, and they are basically walking in their own paths—alone, while living together.

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Ayoola Smart as Lizzie and her dad Tucker Crowe played by Ethan Hawke in “Juliet, Naked.”

The crux of the film is that a supposedly long-lost Tucker CD materializes, and Annie writes a scathing rebuttal of the CD on the online blog that Tucker manages. He doesn’t realize that it’s Annie initially, but the tension and backlash cause the couple to split. Tucker thinks the CD is the best thing since sliced bread, and Annie thinks the CD isn’t really finished and not eligible for “epic” status. But Annie’s critique catches Tucker’s eye, and he and Annie start a string of emails, which are based on their common sentiments, that eventually leads to him coming to London to visit his estranged daughter. During this visit, he also visits Annie, and a relationship forms. Tucker is a complicated soul, and Annie realizes this. The relationship between Annie and Tucker grows, even though he has at least four kids from a few relationships. Only his youngest son and one daughter named Lizzie (played by Nigerian-born Irish actress Ayoola Smart) know Tucker intimately, because he had let other relationships fall by the wayside.

“Juliet, Naked,” which has nothing to do with anyone being naked, forces Tucker to sort of defend his 20-year absence from the rock music scene and also forces him to face his demons around his lack of involvement with his children. For Annie, it forces her to break the chains, so to speak, of her stagnant relationship with Duncan and her boring life and go for adventure or at least learn to put her needs first.

Tucker’s role as a philandering musician has hurt many people, the least of whom is himself. A poignant scene in the hospital brings all this dysfunction to a head and finally drives the point home that Tucker has many regrets and he can only begin to fix this dysfunction by admitting his role in creating acrimony and indifference among his extended family.

Hawke is good as a middle-aged musician who doesn’t try to rewrite his history but who pledges to commit himself to a better future. Byrne, as Annie, plays a younger woman who doesn’t stargaze or grow fanatical about her relationship with Tucker. However, she uses this instance of “walking on the wild side” to reaffirm her self-confidence and make much needed changes in the way she does things.

“Juliet, Naked” is playing in limited release in the area and is due for wider distribution in November.

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