Movie reviews: 'Juliet, Naked' a rom com for adults
Published Friday, August 31, 2018 6:00AM EDT
JULIET, NAKED: 4 STARS
“Juliet, Naked,” based on a Nick Hornby novel, is a rom com for adults. Ethan Hawke and Rose Byrne play folks who have lived untidy lives and yet find one more chance at happiness.
Byrne plays Annie, an English woman who dreamed of living a glamorous life in London but settled for taking her father’s old job at a museum in the sleepy coastal town of Sandcliff. She lives with Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), a pop culture obsessed college professor who has built a shrine to 90s emo rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) in the basement. Crowe is an enigma, a Jeff Buckley type who only released one album. He is now the stuff of legend and speculation on a fan site run by Duncan.
When a package arrives one day containing a rare demo Annie opens it and listens to it before Duncan comes home. Displeased he dramatically declares, “I have to leave. It smells like betrayal in here.“
To get even Annie writes a lukewarm review of the demo’s “half-sketched” songs, posts it on Duncan’s site and waits for the reaction. What she doesn’t expect is to hear from Crowe himself.
“Bingo,” he replies. “You nailed it. It couldn’t have said it better myself.” The unlikely pair forms a friendship via e-mail, sharing details from their lives. Soon they go from pen pals to real life friends when he comes to England to visit his daughter (Ayoola Smart).
The transatlantic epistolary of the film’s first half gives way to a charming series of scenes that sees the relationship between Annie and Tucker blossom. Director Jesse Peretz avoids most of the clichés that push rom coms into Katherine Heigl territory. Instead he conjures up a situation with lots of moving parts.
Tucker has lots of kids by different mothers, and in one great scene almost all of them arrive to visit him at the same time, with their mothers in tow. Annie is looking back at her life, wondering what might have been different if she had made different choices. “At least you have a past to live up to,” she writes to Tucker, “creative remnants from your life.” On top of that is Duncan, a monomaniac whose fandom approaches toxic levels.
All three are compelling characters brought to life by Hawke, Byrne and O’Dowd. Hawke is a leading man who is also a character actor. He brings a grungy charm to Tucker, a man who has made mistakes and owns up to them. Byrne portrays Annie’s frustration in her life but never allows her to become maudlin. She’s hopeful and you’ll want the best for her as well. O’Dowd’s fixation with Crowe, though over-the-top, is earnest.
“Juliet, Naked” has a great deal of warmth and terrific, charismatic performances. The thing that makes it great is what it doesn’t have. It’s a rom com that doesn’t pander to obvious choices—there’s no airport run or contrived fight that keeps the characters apart—and instead relies on the grown up pleasures the genre can provide.
SEARCHING: 4 STARS
We all do internet searches everyday but a new film ups the stakes. “Searching” is a high-tech missing person’s story.
We first meet dad David (John Cho), mother Pam (Sara Sohn) and daughter Margot (Michelle La) through a cleverly edited montage of their on-line activity. From e-mails and YouTube videos to log-ins and Facebook pages, we learn about their lives including Pam’s cancer diagnosis.
The tight family is torn apart by Pam’s illness, with 16-year-old Margot retreating pulling away from her father until one night when she disappears without a trace after a study group meeting. When she fails to answer any of David’s texts he calls the police. Working with Detective Vick (Debra Messing) he sifts through Margot’s online life in a desperate search for clues. The deeper his cyber investigation goes the more twists appear. “I didn’t know my daughter,” he says.
From Google Maps and app controlled surveillance cameras to FaceTime and Instagram, the story is told through a series of browser windows via laptops and iPhones, any device with a screen. It sounds like it will sterile, like an afternoon of web surfing with higher stakes, but director Aneesh Chaganty humanizes the story. Technology tells the tale but the beating heart of the narrative is David’s determination to find his daughter. The film’s style is very specific and very modern but the theme of connection between parents and children is universal.
“Searching” feels like high tech Hitchcock as David uncovers the details of his daughter’s life. The more browsers, the more suspense. Chaganty uses our familiarity with these sites—many of us go to them everyday—to ground the story in reality and underline the alienating quality of social media that fails to fill the hole left by loneliness and grief. Also, who would have thought a Norton antivirus reminder that Pam’s account hasn’t been scanned in 694 days could take on such poignancy?
We’ve seen these screen-shot movies before—2014’s “Unfriended” comes to mind—but none have had the emotional arc of “Searching.” It’s a little too conventional in its climax and conclusion but John Cho’s terrific performance and some genuine thrills elevate the story past its visual gimmick.
CARDINALS: 3 ½ STARS
Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” but some people do it anyway. Take Valerie (Sheila McCarthy), protagonist of “Cardinals.” After spending a decade in prison for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated she returns home to an unexpected reception.
The story begins the night of her crime. Without spoiling the film’s set up I can tell you we see Valerie guzzling vodka in the front seat of her car as a lifeless body is illuminated by her tail lights.
Fast-forward ten years. On the day of her release from prison her daughters (Grace Glowicki and Kate Boland) welcome her back. Not everyone is happy to see her, however. Next door neighbour and victim’s son Mark (Noah Reid) has waited ten years to confront her, to find out what, exactly, happened that fateful night. Valerie’s stoicism and lack of contriteness stonewalls Marks’ attempts to uncover the truth. Is there more to this story than he originally thought?
“Cardinals” is a slow burn that focuses on the reaction to Valerie’s actions. She brought tragedy to two familes, Mark lost a father and her daughters lost their mother, but as details are revealed in a harrowing climax, more questions about culpability and consequences are raised. It’s an interesting “Dateline” worthy crime story with an effective central performance from McCarthy.