The trouble with being excited about a movie, based on its personnel and premise, is that it then has something to live up to. Both of these were on our most-anticipated list; both of them failed to meet those (perhaps inflated?) expectations.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Since the massive box office success of Good Will Hunting, Gus Van Sant has veered back and forth between similarly commercial sentimental fare (Milk, Finding Forrester) and aggressively-to-off-puttingly experimental works (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days). If that schizophrenia is peculiar when considering the filmography, imagine how odd it is to see those two modes co-exiting in the same picture. The experimentation plays better; there’s some inventive crosscutting and structural play, and the form seems a good match with the subject (John Callahan, who became a darkly comic cartoonist after a drunken car crash left him paralyzed). But Van Sant’s script keeps putting that stuff on pause so someone can do a maudlin, Oscar clip-ready, teary-eyed monologue. The actors mostly come out looking good (except poor Rooney Mara, saddled with an absolute nothing of a role), but this one’s ultimately a washout.
Nick Hornby’s novel 2009 novel Juliet, Naked is one of his best, returning to the types of his seminal High Fidelity with a bit more cynicism and self-awareness, and it’s hard to imagine better fits for its love triangle of forgotten rock star, obsessive fan, and the woman caught between them than (respectively) Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd, and Rose Byrne. They’re all fabulous; Byrne is particularly good, conveying the character’s quiet melancholy while landing laughs big and small, and Hawke nicely captures the look (shorts and sandals chic) and gait of a guy who stopped caring years ago, a grizzled shadow of his former self. Scattered moments and sequences work, capturing the way an email correspondence can be a ray of light in the fog of a bad relationship, for example, or getting at something insightful about how, at a certain point, fans take ownership of art. But director Jesse Peretz directs in a flat, uninteresting, TV-movie style, clumsily staging and poorly timing his would-be comic set pieces. Much like his last feature, Our Idiot Brother, he takes a clever concept and an unbeatable cast and sands it down into something utterly forgettable. What a shame.