Following the first successful film adaptations of “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy,” British author Nick Hornby has another novel that recently hit the big screen. While it didn’t reach the cinematic heights of its predecessors, “Juliet, Naked” is a successful romantic comedy that doesn’t rely on the genre-typical fairy-tale approach.
Film professor Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is a super-fan of musician Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who mysteriously disappeared in the mid-’90s after publishing his only album named “Juliet.” Duncan spends his time updating his fan site with new conspiracy theories about Crowe’s presumed whereabouts and reasons for his disappearance. Meanwhile, Duncan’s girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne) realizes she has wasted the last 15 years living with a man-child in a sleepy British coastal town. One day, Annie finds a CD in Duncan’s mail and realizes it’s an unmastered acoustic version of Crowe’s only album “Juliet, Naked.”
Without Duncan knowing, Annie listens to the song before he does and this puts more distance between the two especially when Annie confesses that the song wasn’t too impressive. Duncan writes a good review about “Juliet, Naked” on his website, but Annie counterattacks by writing a bad review on Duncan’s website. Shortly afterward, Crowe personally contacts her from the United States to confirm Annie’s scathing review. It turns out Crowe isn’t what Duncan expected him to be. To everyone’s surprise, Crowe and Annie hit it off well, but when family affairs bring Crowe back to England, events take a turn and Annie has to think about what really matters.
Most adult romanticcomedies start out really funny, but then get very serious in the second act without ever getting back to the humor that made the story worthwhile to begin with. “Juliet, Naked” does a much better job in balancing comedy and drama without one overpowering the other, probably due to some guidance from producer Judd Apatow, an expert in creating adult comedies.
Annie quickly becomes the center of the movie. Her kind-heartedness shines in the film as she places others first until it is almost too late. Her contact with Crowe makes her realize it’s time for some self-care, and she finally breaks out of her routine. At the same time Duncan is unable to accept that his hero is just a flawed human being, which affects his personal development.
The actors do a fairly good job on their own, but when placed together there aren’t many sparks flying. This is OK for Annie & Duncan, but the scenes with Annie & Crowe could have had more chemistry because they unrealistically came off as old friends. Also, the script seems to lose direction in a few places: a common problem when more than three screenwriters are involved.
The soundtrack plays a big role in every Nick Hornby adaptation. Ethan Hawke steps up and sings not only the songs from Crowe’s album “Juliet,” but also handpicked songs from artists like Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst or the Kinks. The music provides a perfect backdrop and turns an average movie into something quite enjoyable.
“Juliet, Naked” is a film about wasted opportunities, regrets and second chances. Director Jesse Perez isn’t always in control of the story, but the charming ensemble more than makes up for the little inconsistencies. It’s not the best Nick Hornby adaptation ever made, but the viewer can definitely feel the vibe that made the British author so popular. While “Juliet, Naked” surely doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is definitely a fun ride!
Overall Rating: 7/10
Juliet, Naked (2018)
Directed by Jesse Perez
Written by Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, Evgenia Perez; based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby
Produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Jeffrey Soros
With Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd, Jimmy O. Yang, Megan Dodds
Cinematography by Remi Adefarasin
R-Rated, 105 min