Raise your hand if a dude’s ever mansplained music to you. Now imagine hooking up with the musician and throwing it in the dude’s face. Juliet, Naked is that dream realized.
After Annie (Rose Byrne) and Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) split after many boring years together—in part due to Duncan’s obsession with a vanished ’90s indie rock god, Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke)—Annie happens into a romance with Tucker. Then everyone has to stop, go “Whoa!”, and reflect on their lives.
Except it isn’t nearly as navel-gazey as I just made it sound. Juliet, Naked is charming, funny, and very smart. And this might sound crazy, but I’ve never liked Ethan Hawke more than in this film, where he pokes fun at his own status as an aging ’90s icon. (It’s fortunate that Reality Bites-era Hawke had so many tortured glamour shots taken; in Juliet, Naked, Duncan basically uses them as wallpaper in he and Annie’s house.) While Tucker’s character starts off feeling like little more than a plot device to drive Annie and Duncan apart, it’s his arc that becomes the most interesting, layered part of the whole mess.
Juliet, Naked is based on a novel by Nick Hornby, who’s established a solid career from writing about middle-aged hipster assholes who slowly come to realize that no one likes middle-aged hipster assholes. But Juliet, Naked differs from Hornby’s past works like High Fidelity and About a Boy in that it centers on a sympathetic woman dealing with idiot men rather than the idiot men themselves. It’s a refreshing switch-up, especially since I really don’t think I could endure a film told through Duncan’s eyes, feeling victimized by his jilted ex befriending his idol. O’Dowd is great as a hapless villain, and I cherished seeing the fall of a mansplainer: He’s outsplained by his own mansplainee, a woman who decides to develop her own explanations.