UNIVERSAL PICTURES (2018)
Directors: Jesse Peretz
Starring: Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O'Dowd, Megan Dodds
Elliott Smith. Jeff Buckley. Tucker Crowe.
The indie icons of the 90s. Well, only two of them are real, but still. Jesse Peretz’s Juliet, Naked (adapted from Nick Hornby’s novel) falls firmly into the indie category and revolves around fictional washed-up rocker Tucker Crowe (Hawke), furiously obsessed fan Duncan (O’Dowd) and his repressed, shackled partner Annie (Byrne). The music takes a backseat to the character drama, but it’s the love/hate relationship with the music that fuels the story.
After Duncan receives a surprise copy of Juliet, Naked – a super rare demo version of Crowe’s one and only “masterpiece”, Juliet – his long-suffering partner of fifteen years Annie finally stops tip-toeing around her annoyance at playing second fiddle to Crowe. Her negative review of the demo on the Crowe forum leads to an appreciative message from the man himself and thus begins a new chapter in all of their lives.
Juliet, Naked is pure Hornby through-and-through – there’s the music (especially the alternative genre), the romantic angles, the purposeless protagonists and, pretty much, the character of Duncan as a whole. The obsessive fanboy forums/attitudes are well-represented here also and doesn’t seem a million miles from the real world. As film lecturer Duncan, Chris O’Dowd is teeth-grindingly infuriating – the character portrayal, not O’Dowd’s solid performance – as the fan who has put Tucker Crowe above everything in his life to the point of thanking a new listener for commenting that young Tucker was “gorgeous”. He’s never necessarily harmful, just overly obsessive and this is highlighted in the excellent scene where he finally gets to pour his knowledge of Crowe’s life to the agitated rocker himself. As Crowe, Ethan Hawke looks and plays the part very well and gets to tap into his Boyhood experiences when mining deeper emotions - especially in regards to his own life-affirming relationship with his son Jackson (Azhy Robertson). It’s Rose Byrne who is the MVP here, her charming, likable, yet still, vulnerable performance is engaging and really gives the viewer someone to follow throughout. Her fine performance glues everything else together and prevents the movie from potentially falling into any (more) pitfalls.
Swapping between America and a seaside town in England, the movie retains a small-town charm at all times and those yearning for some good old English nostalgia will be in luck here. There’s a 1960’s themed exhibition in town and, at times, the movie appears to be set in that decade too with the quaintness and wardrobe selections – Tucker’s grungy look falls foul of the required prim and properness the town calls for. Duncan’s Crowe-Cave has vintage posters adorning the walls complete with Crowe’s major gigs (including sharing the bill with Weezer) – the independent feeling bleeds from the music to the visuals throughout.
Story-wise, there are plenty of typical rom-com beats and conventions scattered across the narrative, but somehow, Juliet, Naked manages to feel detached from and fresher than the majority of its more recent peers. Sure, there are some contrived plot points (everything surrounding the hospital scene) but it’s Byrne’s performance in each scene that saves them. The dialogue works and the humour is generally on point as well, the main downfall is the aforementioned hospital scene with its delivery and having characters appear and never be seen or heard from again - lessening the desired impact. When the emotion works, though, it’s delivered exceptionally well.
Rom-coms and Hornby fans will be happy with Juliet, Naked, but genres aside, the movie works by being (generally) uncluttered and unpretentious, merging interesting characters with a solid story without ever becoming saccharine or eye-rollingly predictable. Quaint but thankfully not quirky, Juliet, Naked is a fine flick that utilises its excellent cast to near-perfection.
October 23rd 2018