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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

The Wife

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Wife

Let’s look first at those responsible for The Wife because every one of them contributes to making this movie the winner that it is. Bjorn Runge directs the script written by Jane Auden from the novel by Meg Wolitzer. Music, filming, script, and performances form a single admirable whole.

Glenn Close creates a superb portrait of Joan Castleman while Jonathan Pryce delivers her husband Joe Castleman with his many strengths and weaknesses. It would have been so easy to make him a straightforward bad guy and that doesn’t happen. He is a man of the 1950s. Annie Stark creates the young Joan and Max Irons is their son Joe, an aspiring writer cringing under the fame and shallow nature of his father.

As we meet Joan and Joe, a phone call announces that Joe has just won the Nobel prize for his most recent book. As they prepare for the victory trip to Sweden, we see that Joan has taken care of him for years – pills, glasses, keys, careful oversight. When they arrive, all attention is showered on Nobel winner Joe while people take obligatory care of Joan who carries her husband’s hat and pills and is told by Nobel assistants, “We can arrange for shopping and beauty treatments.” In this celebration of her husband, neither she nor their son Joe exists.

Flashbacks introduce us to young Joan (Annie Stark) who writes a fine story that is published. In the manner of the ‘50s, she stops writing when she marries in order to be the housewife who forgets nothing. The prevailing culture treats Joe as the successful author and Joan as the non-existent woman. In the era when all decisions were made by men, Joan was a writer who didn’t count. Jump to the Nobel Prize ceremonies decades later and watch Joan, with icy control, hide her anger and resentment.

As the movie winds up to full power, we in the audience are caught in the skill of the moviemakers. The anger – how will this story end? In the hands of this cast, it will end powerfully and disturbingly as a comment on its times. The creation of those times, of the ‘50s, is accurate and disturbing to watch from 2018.

Once again though, the huge power of it comes from mastery in every aspect of the writing, delivery, and acting. Annie Stark as young Joan and Max Irons as son Joe hit us hard with a deep understanding of the rippling effects of fame. Jonathan Pryce is stunning as a man wrapped in the trappings of male accomplishment and cultural worship. Glen Close silences us in awe with a performance that is delivered for the most part through changes of expression that are subtle, quiet and thoroughly deep. The movie touches the various commands of the prevailing culture. As Joan suffers the isolation of a highly intelligent woman followed by implosion and then explosion, the theater is absolutely silent, stunned by Glen Close’s performance.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: The Wife
Word Count: 494
Running Time: 1:40
Rating: R
Date: September 9, 2018

This review was posted on September 9, 2018, in Drama.