Juliet,Naked, directed by Jesse Peretz, is a clever romantic comedy that takes a gentle jab at music fandom. Adapted from the Nick Hornby novel of the same name, it focuses on some of the novelist’s signature themes: love, music, obsession, and people muddling through the middle part of life. The film centers on Annie (Rose Byrne), who runs the Sandcliff Seaside Museum and is beginning to wonder why she is still there, in this coastal town where nothing ever happens. Until it does, and in the most unexpected way.
Among the attributes of Annie’s sad life is Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), her partner for the past fifteen years. A lecturer at the local college, Duncan’s true calling is documenting the minutiae of the life and music of Tucker Crowe, a cult figure on the music scene of the 90s. Crowe walked out on a gig one night twenty years ago and has never been heard from since. He runs a website dedicated to all things Crowe, and true fan that he is, arguably knows more about his idol than Crowe himself. Chris O’Dowd is hilarious as Duncan, a man too entrenched in his pedantic pseudo-intellectualism to realize how petty, self-absorbed, and ridiculous is his behavior. Some of my favorite scenes in the film are Duncan’s video posts on Tucker Crowe.
Comparisons with High Fidelity are inevitable. Duncan is a parody of a fan, played for laughs, far from the desperate pulsating nervous energy of John Cusak’s Rob Gordon. Yet the spotlight here is not on the music geek, but on his not-so-innocent victim, the has-been musician, Tucker Crowe. It’s no spoiler that he shall indeed be heard from in the film, and Ethan Hawke calls forth the precise note of disheveled regret in his portrayal of the aging rocker. Yet the overall tone is rather mild, the edgy precision of Hornby’s prose smoothed over in this adaptation, and the film never achieves the depth or emotional impact of High Fidelity.
A lively addition to the plot, along with other minor changes to Hornby’s original, is Annie’s younger sister Rose (Lily Brazier), whose risk-all, magical-thinking approach to relationships is woefully wrong and lots of fun to watch. Her character provides an excellent contrast to the hesitant “do I dare to eat a peach” style of the three, older but no wiser, leads. Juliet, Naked is determined to be a romantic comedy, and as such, is delightful summer fare. It’s dessert, sweet yet not too cloying.
Director: Jesse Peretz; Screenplay: Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, Evgenia Peretz; Cinematography: Remi Adefarasin; Editors: Sabine Hoffman, Robert Nassau; Cast: Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Dodds, Jimmy O. Yang, Lily Newmark, Lily Brazier, Johanna Thea, Azhy Robertson.