Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Annie is sleepwalking through life. Her boyfriend, Duncan, is so infatuated with an obscure American singer that it has actually gotten in the way of their relationship. Annie writes a negative review of Duncan’s hero’s work online and, amazingly, gets a response from the extremely reclusive singer himself, setting off a long distance friendship that causes both of them to rethink their lives. This is the setup of Juliet, Naked, a generally pleasant, and occasionally quite enjoyable, romantic comedy about two people who do not like where they are at and have no idea how they got there.
Juliet, Naked (93 minutes without the end credits) is the sixth Nick Hornby novel to be adapted for the screen. It is not at the level of High Fidelity (one of my personal favorite films) or About a Boy, but it does contain many of the things I enjoy about his books. It is funny, intelligent and self-aware. His characters tend to be aimless, obsessive, self-conscious (at least his protagonists are) and interested in music. This story is no different.
Annie and Tucker, the singer, are aimless and self-conscious. They are displeased with the direction their lives have gone in, with no concept of how to change it. Duncan is obsessive about music to the point where it is actively having an adverse impact on his life, though he has not noticed. They are fairly typical Hornby types. This is one of the few of his books I have yet to read, so I can only guess this is accurate to the way he wrote them. The adaptation is definitely faithful to his spirit. It feels like a cousin to those previous films.
The major thing holding Juliet, Naked back is that, while Annie is very likable, the men are less so. Tucker is trying to take responsibility for himself, but he is ignorant when it comes to the effect he has on the people around him. Duncan is an obnoxious man-child who is sometimes tiresome to watch. Due to the actors’ skills, they can certainly be amusing. However, I was unable to become as invested in the outcome as I wanted to be because I could not shake the feeling that Annie would be wasting her time with either guy.
Annie is played by Rose Byrne as a smart woman who realizes what she thought she wanted is no longer sufficient for her. Byrne is a very engaging and charming actor. As a result, I liked Annie a lot. I was rooting for her to find happiness, even with the underwhelming options she had to choose from. Chris O’Dowd is funny enough to get some humorous moments out of Duncan, but the character is so self-centered and arrogant it made me wonder how Annie could ever have tolerated him in the first place.
As the elusive Tucker Crowe, a man who released one album decades ago, then disappeared in the middle of his tour, the talented Ethan Hawke brings world-weariness to the character’s knowledge gained from a lifetime of screwing up. There are some good scenes between him and Annie as they get to know each other, but he seems stuck in his own narrative bubble, large parts of which occur off-screen. His story is interesting. There are moments where I almost started to care about him. However, because the movie does not delve too deeply into him, it only sporadically shows why Annie would be attracted to the self-pitying Tucker.
Juliet, Naked still mostly shines thanks to the performance of Rose Byrne and the writing of her character. Annie is handled delicately and realistically (at least for a romantic comedy). I had fun watching her. I am not sure I laughed out loud during the movie, but I chuckled a few times and smiled a lot. It is a nice little diversion that should be satisfying for fans of the genre, the actors and the author whose novel it is based on.
3¼ out of 5
Rose Byrne as Annie
Ethan Hawke as Tucker Crowe
Chris O’Dowd as Duncan
Lily Brazier as Ros
Azhy Robertson as Jackson Crowe
Ayoola Smart as Lizzie Crowe
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Screenplay by Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins