The pairing of Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd in this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s bestselling novel brings the hope of Bridesmaids-quality comedy. But then Ethan Hawke is the third player in this transatlantic love triangle, and so might we expect an incisive drama, exploring the complexities of relationships and human desire? Ultimately, the film touches on both genres without committing to either, and as a result lacks conviction in its tone.
Annie (Byrne) and Duncan (O’Dowd) were college sweethearts. But 15 years on, their comfortable life in the coastal town of Sandcliff is becoming stale. Duncan derives far more enjoyment from managing a fan site devoted to his musical hero, Tucker Crowe. Annie has nothing to distract herself from this irritating obsession; certainly not the children that she finds herself yearning for. In a fit of frustration, Annie takes to the fan site to defame the old rockstar’s latest release, the song “Juliet, Naked”. Her review is the final nail in the coffin for her relationship with Duncan, but elicits an unexpected response from Tucker Crowe himself. This leads to a correspondence between the two, and with it the possibility of redemptive change.
The premise of the film is not the most original, and many of the characters are box-fresh stereotypes that block the humour from achieving anything but a basic standard. The email correspondence between Annie and Tucker is also a tired trope, and a vehicle for cringy quasi-existential outpourings. It is not until the two meet face-to-face that their chemistry is unleashed, and elevates the movie into a sphere of more interesting themes: success, regret, broken families and nonexistent ones.
Rose Byrne’s Annie is endearing and intelligent, and Hawke, true to type, delivers a nuanced performance as Tucker Crowe. More heartbreaking than any romantic storyline is Crowe’s too-late realisation that the only thing of value to an ageing man is the family he has built and the love it produces. It is Crowe’s determination to right the wrongs of his past that mean that ultimately Tucker – unemployed, womaniser, estranged father to children from four different women – is still one of the film’s most sympathetic characters. He is a reminder that the worst crime is not failure, but rather the lack of desire to change.
Byrne and Hawke are an interesting, modern couple whose performances deserve a more sophisticated oeuvre than Jesse Peretz is able to offer in this film. Nevertheless, Juliet, Naked manages a simple charm, so that something of a flat screenplay yet bears the fruit of some touching moments.
Juliet, Naked is released in select cinemas on 2nd November 2018.
Watch the trailer for Juliet, Naked here: