Indie Focus: Revelations and discoveries in 'Juliet, Naked,' 'Madeline's Madeline' and 'The Wife'

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

The late-summer crop of movies has been particularly bountiful this year. (Anyone trying to tell you there’s nothing to see just isn’t looking.) There are so many good movies out there right now that Times film critic Justin Chang wrote a combined review of Crystal Moselle’s reality-based fiction story “Skate Kitchen” and Bing Liu’s dramatic documentary “Minding the Gap,” two films that use the culture of skateboarding as a way to look at youth and the struggles toward maturity.


Since we first started our Indie Focus Screening Series, among the filmmakers I have most hoped to have for a Q&A is Andrew Bujalski. So I am especially excited about Monday’s screening of his charming new “Support the Girls” with Bujalski there for a conversation after. For info and updates, go to

Ethan Hawke in "Juliet, Naked."
Ethan Hawke in "Juliet, Naked." (Alex Bailey / Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

‘Juliet, Naked’

Directed by Jesse Peretz and adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby, “Juliet, Naked” is the tale of a winsome romantic triangle that is also a story of fandom and obsession, growth and maturity and self-possession. A woman in a small English village lives in the shadow of her boyfriend’s great passion, the music of an obscure American singer-songwriter. When she takes up an unexpected email correspondence with the musician, it changes the tune of all of their lives. The movie stars Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “A charming film of an engaging, adult nature about two very different people trying to press reset in their lives, it is comic, heartfelt and smart as they come — a rare combination these days.”

I spoke to Peretz, Hornby and composer Nathan Larson, along with songwriters Ryan Adams and Robyn Hitchcock about creating the supposedly lost album of music at the movie’s core. As to whether the music matched whatever he had in his head for the novel, Horny said, “I’d say it’s pretty close .… It’s easy to write this stuff in a book, knowing that nobody will ever hear it — another thing to make it come to life.”

For the Associated Press, Lindsey Bahr called it “a charming and smart little film about early middle age, second chances, regrets and the intoxicating freedom of written correspondence that’s nearly impossible to explain without either spoiling something or being willfully misleading … [“Juliet, Naked”] is not really about the romance or the rocker or the lousy boyfriend. It’s about a woman, trapped in stagnation learning what she wants.”

At the Village Voice, April Wolfe added, “It’s as though I’ve had my ‘High Fidelity’ fantasy delivered, lo, so many years later: Show me this emotional idiot’s relationship from the woman’s perspective. Through circumstance and coincidence, Tucker and Annie begin a secret internet friendship, just as Duncan begins cheating with a new movement teacher at his university. Peretz could have given each potential pairing equal time in the story, but he sticks with the most evocative of the two; ‘Juliet, Naked’ has its charms, and they are named Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke.”

Cast members Molly Parker, from left, Miranda July and Helena Howard and director Josephine Decker of "Madeline's Madeline," photographed during the Sundance Film Festival.
Cast members Molly Parker, from left, Miranda July and Helena Howard and director Josephine Decker of "Madeline's Madeline," photographed during the Sundance Film Festival. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

‘Madeline’s Madeline’

It is difficult to describe exactly what “Madeline’s Madeline,” directed by Josephine Decker, is about, and somehow easier to explain how it makes a viewer feel, delirious on its own wild desires. The story of a young woman (Helena Howard in an explosive debut) who becomes involved with an experimental theater troupe, she is also pulled between her protective mother (Miranda July) and permissive director (Molly Parker). The film becomes a treatise on, among other things, the purpose of art in life.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang talked of Decker’s ambitions by noting, “As a filmmaker, she is unusually invested in matters of authorial responsibility and narrative agency. She ponders the riddle of what artists owe their audiences, and also the people whose lives they sometimes shape and bend into art.”

I spoke to Decker, Howard, Parker and July about the unusual process behind the film’s creation for an article that will be publishing soon.

For the New York Times, A.O. Scott referred to “this seductive, disturbing, exasperating movie” before adding that “conventional distinctions don’t necessarily apply. Between fantasy and reality, certainly, but also between authenticity and artifice, theater and therapy, art and life.”

Reviewing for IndieWire, David Ehrlich called the film “an ecstatically disorienting experience that defines its terms right from the start and then obliterates any trace of traditional film language, achieving a cinematic aphasia that allows Decker to redraw the boundaries between the stories we tell and the people we tell them about .… This is one of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century.”

Christian Slater, left, Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in "The Wife."
Christian Slater, left, Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in "The Wife." (Graeme Hunter Pictures)

‘The Wife’


Based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer, adapted by Jane Anderson and directed by Björn Runge, “The Wife” is a showcase for powerful performances by Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce. In the film, Pryce plays a celebrated novelist who is awarded the Nobel Prize, which drives their marriage to the breaking point, revealing long-hidden truths about both of them.


In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan cited the movie as “made by adults for adults,” before going on to call it, “an intimate drama that offers an inside look at a marriage and the dark bargains couples sometimes have to make with each other.”

At Vulture, Emily Yoshida wrote, “If you’re looking for an aspirational backdrop against which to set a domestic drama, you can do worse than the Nobel Prize ceremony. It has it all: highbrow glamour, an exotic locale, swanky banquets, and obscure enough proceedings that few viewers will be able to determine if you ‘got it right’ or not. ‘The Wife’ makes good use of all these assets .… If your marriage is doomed to dissolve, it’s nice to at least get in some culture along the way.”

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