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Juliet, Naked

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Juliet, Naked

Juliet, Naked blooms slowly in the hands of four appealing performers who work with a thoroughly oddball plot. As they develop their characters, the movie turns into a genuinely pleasant trip.

The title is the name of a play by songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) who disappeared twenty years ago at the height of his career. Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) has covered the wall of his study with pictures and articles about his songster hero. When a CD by the lost singer arrives in the mail, Duncan is enthralled while Annie (Rose Byrne), his housemate, thinks the song is ludicrous – enough so that she sits down and writes a negative review to Tucker Crowe who is intrigued and responds.

As we meet them early on, none of the three is especially happy. Tucker, in recovery from two decades of alcoholism, is being nice to a bevy of women and the children he fathered with them. Annie is disappointed in life with Duncan who seems interested primarily in himself and in his passion for Tucker Crowe’s music. Tucker is atoning for his past by being a genuinely kind father to Jackson (Azhy Robertson), a bright, interesting little boy who loves him. As this reformed fellow tries to figure out what to do with the rest of his life, we follow the gang with increasing interest.

Because it’s clear that these adults haven’t the faintest idea of how to design new lives, we settle in to enjoy them for who they are. Rose Byrne makes Annie a kind woman living with a man she doesn’t much care about. Ethan Hawke wraps Tucker in the confusion of looking up the women and children of his dalliances. Chris O’Dowd sets Duncan in a pleasant but boring cloud of confusion.

If all this sounds dull, it isn’t. Once we understand that these three have no idea of how to redesign their lives in middle-age, we begin to enjoy their search. There’s not a villain in the bunch and we begin to understand them and root for them in their dilemmas. The one who doesn’t need our help is Azhy Robertson’s Jackson who is thoroughly happy just to be living with the father who loves him while he peppers the movie with intriguing questions and observations.

Chris O’Dowd builds a nutty professor with an odd passion without alienating the audience while Rose Byrne paints a touching portrait of someone who thinks she should be happy but isn’t. In a nice footnote, if you wonder why Rose Byrne is always carrying something in front of her or wearing flowing clothes, the reason is, of course, that she is pregnant in real life.

Ethan Hawke creates a thoroughly appealing nutcase who did all kinds of bad things while he was drinking and now is open to his new life as long as nothing takes him away from his son Jackson. The movie is an appealing slice of the change of direction that is such a hallmark of middle-age.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Juliet, Naked
Word Count: 498
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: R
Date: September 16, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a movie that could have gone wrong for all kinds of reasons and instead does everything right. It is cleverly designed to give audiences a taste of the cultures of both America and Singapore and it is delivered by terrific actors who understand perfectly what their all-Asian cast is trying to do. Don’t miss this one.

We first meet Rachel (Constance Wu), an Asian economics professor in New York City. She is deeply in love with Nick (Henry Golding), a handsome Asian from Singapore on a temporary stay in New York. Without telling her much about his background, this nice guy takes his new love to visit his family in Singapore. The couple is dropped into the ultra-luxurious chaos of that city – a challenge for them and a heap of fun for the audience. As the film shifts between showing us the culture and the couple, we sink in with alternating laughter and concern.

Nick, we learn, is expected to take over the family company in the town where his entire family lives in unimaginable luxury. Director Jon M. Chu takes us on a comical romp through the cultural excess balanced by the serious demands by both his family and the city for Nick’s permanent return.

Those are the bones, and they are carried by a terrific cast. There isn’t one thing not to love about the performances of Constance Wu and Henry Golding. We root for them all the way. A third outstanding – though decidedly not lovable – performance comes from Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s mother. From beginning to end she turns her coldest self to her son’s beautiful girlfriend who she sees as “the American threat.” Hers is as quietly powerful a performance of dignified cruelty as we are likely to see in a very long time. To Rachel she says, “You will never be enough.”

We are given a wonderful look at the extraordinary architecture of Singapore along with the culture of an unfathomably rich gang of citizens who make the wealthiest part of New York City look like a slum. Despite all the excess that surrounds them, It’s just plain fun to watch this couple we already like so much as they move through the opulence while facing up to the cruelty of Nick’s mother. When the general resentment of Rachel begins to look both permanent and mean, our attention turns from the comically ludicrous luxury to the reality of a good love story.

Where did the magic come from? An earned salute to director Jon M. Chu who directs a fun, nutty story as his fine actors plow gracefully through the jokes, the customs, the music, and the opulence. This is the kind of zany fun we rarely have during a night at the movies. Welcome to the Asian film industry. Without suggesting whether you will cry in sadness or delight as the end approaches, there were tears in that theater as the lights went up.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Word Count: 494
Running Time: 2:00
Rating: PG-13
Date: August 26, 2018