UK Release Date: 2nd November 2018
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Jesse Peretz
Writer: Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, Evgenia Peretz
Starring: Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd, Denise Gough, Lily Brazier, Azhy Robertson, Ayoola Smart
Synopsis: When her music-obsessed husband cheats on her, a woman becomes penpals with his mysterious favourite singer – and they begin to have a romantic connection.
The work of Nick Hornby has often made its way to the big screen with variable results, from About a Boy and High Fidelity through to the very odd A Long Way Down. Latest to arrive in cinemas is an adaptation of his 2009 novel Juliet, Naked which has retained its English seaside setting in order to tell the story of an unassuming English woman beginning an epistolary romance with a Dylan-esque American singer-songwriter.
That woman is Annie (Rose Byrne), who is becoming increasingly disenchanted with her life. Her boyfriend, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), teaches a course about “American cinema and the alienated male” at a nearby university and, in his spare time, runs a fansite for the mysterious American musician Tucker Crowe, who hasn’t been seen since the release of his seminal heartbreak album ‘Juliet’. When a special ‘naked’ version of the album turns up at their home, Annie listens to it and ultimately leaves a negative comment beneath Duncan’s glowing review. Tucker himself, played by Ethan Hawke, gets in touch with Annie and, when he agrees with her withering assessment, they become friends.
Juliet, Naked works very well as an amiable romantic comedy, and this largely comes down to the trio of central performances. Rose Byrne, in particular, shows that comedy really is her wheelhouse with a terrific take on a woman who’s so breathtakingly sensible – she orders a korma for goodness sake! – that she hasn’t ever given herself room to actually live a life. In the shape of Hawke’s washed-up singer, she finds someone who may have lived slightly too much of a life and is now seeing all of his hedonistic chickens come home to roost as he lives in his ex-partner’s garage.
Their initially platonic relationship becomes a lifeline for Annie when Duncan – played as the perfect avatar of nerdy ‘nice guy’ toxicity by O’Dowd – breaks up with her in favour of colleague Gina (Denise Gough), who shares his appreciation for Tucker’s work. What follows is a tender, lovely germ of a romance that grows and blossoms into a complex but genuine affection, culminating in Tucker’s visit to the UK and an intensely awkward scene around a hospital bed.
There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking in Juliet, Naked which is ultimately quite a lightweight few hours of storytelling. The likeable performances are enough to carry it over the line – and telly veteran Jesse Peretz (Girls, GLOW, New Girl) certainly knows how to helm a comedy – but anyone familiar with the standard beats of the romcom formula will be at least 10 minutes ahead of the action all the way through the movie. It’s not going to join the pantheon of Hornby classics, but it’s well worth a date night trip to the cinema.
Pop or Poop?
There’s very little innovation at play in Juliet, Naked, which is a very simple tale of unlikely romance elevated by a trio of charismatic performances. The script is a little uneven, perhaps as a result of the sizeable arsenal of scriptwriters, and it hits its romcom beats with a slightly too strict adherence to formula. But when the movie is as likeable as this one, it’s tough to be too bothered by clichés.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.