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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 Greatest Showman

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Greatest Showman

After opening to middling reviews, The Greatest Showman has become one of the surprise hits of the season and no one seems to know why. On one level, it is a chronicle of the rise of P.T. Barnum from a young unemployed man to creator of what Americans remember as The Greatest Show on Earth. On another, it tells the tale of the circus that toured the country by train for spectators who could never get to New York. Why do audiences love the movie after so many critics dismissed it?

Think about what Barnum did that was celebrated all those decades ago. The core of his early circus was known as his freak show – a group of disfigured humans to be stared at by audiences. The elephants that eventually opened his show as it grew are now protected. Carrying the animals and performers cross country by train is now considered cruel. Gradual but enormous changes in our culture began to demand more respect for both people and animals.

What people find in this movie is an old-fashioned movie musical that is magical in many ways. Both the acting and the score lift audiences into the story for two hours of pure pleasure as we revisit the spectacle. The movie sizzles on the performances of its actors.

Those formerly known as “the freaks” are brought to life by fine actors who let us get to know them as unique people rather than as a side show. We root for Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle as he grows from supporting pal to real strength. We cheer quietly for P.T.’s wife Charity (Michelle Williams) as she leaves her affluent family for life with an unemployed man with a dream. We find real joy as the gang known as freaks become a real force in the film. And Hugh Jackman builds and sustains the fun with his singing, dancing, and determination. He creates the infectious myth that Barnum began.

The music, dancing, and singing are unfailingly terrific and I, for one, was very glad to be sitting there with a sentimental tear in my eye. Thank you, Benjamin Pasek and Justin Paul for the music that is the heart of the movie and never dims. It is old fashioned in the best of ways as it carries all of us back to another time.

On a personal note, while at college I watched the Ringling Bros. circus train cross the Hudson River while marveling at the giraffes with their long necks sticking straight up from the open car. When I decided after set up to crawl under the side of the tent for fun, I came up under the belly of an enormous elephant in a long line of them and scurried through his hooves with the hope he wouldn’t lift one to smash me. The fun and the charm of this new movie is the mix of Hugh Jackman and the music. Let yourself go for two hours. It’s carnival time.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Greatest Showman
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: PG
Date: January 21, 2018