Jared McMillan // Film Critic
Fandom is something that is permeating throughout our culture on a daily basis. Through various mediums, we communicate passionately about things that have special meaning with innate specificity. However, the downside to fandom, is that it can distract from reality. Reality is dealing with the different, wading through grey areas in life to help us grow as individuals. The fixation can become somewhat sociopathic as the sole focus lies within what’s known.
This fixation is the basis of the new romantic-comedy, JULIET, NAKED, which is based off of the 2009 novel from Nick Hornby. Annie (Rose Byrne) has been with Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) for 15 years, stuck in comfort. There is a listless relationship that she openly admits is in part due to his obsession with indie rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose disappearance 20+ years ago has only led to a lot of fan theories. Most of his communication is lent to other Crowe fanatics, leaving Annie feeling empty. He even has a somewhat popular blog of all things Tucker.
One day, Duncan gets sent demos of his most famous album “Juliet”, only Annie is there to receive it. She listens to “Juliet, Naked” only to be caught by Duncan, causing a fight. She ‘responds to his latest blog post about “Juliet, Naked” with a negative review, further exacerbating their relationship because she just “doesn’t get it.” However, her comment gets an e-mailed response from the man himself, Tucker Crowe, who wholly agrees with what she said.
They start a correspondence predicated on that honesty, with Tucker going into detail about his life. He has five kids from four different women, the latest whom he still stays with even though they broke up, due in part to his youngest son, Jackson (Azhy Robertson). His eldest, Lizzie (Ayoola Smart), comes to visit from London and Tucker finds out she is pregnant. Annie envies his life experiences and big family; Tucker envies her quieter existence. Circumstances fall into place for these two, but will anything ever come of it, or is the passing of emails just an escape?
There are minor liberties taken from Hornby’s novel, but none that distract from the triangle of Annie, Tucker, and Duncan. Writer-director Jesse Peretz (GIRLS, OUR IDIOT BROTHER), along with co-writers Evgenia Peretz (sister/long-time collaborator), Jim Taylor (SIDEWAYS, DOWNSIZING), and Tamara Jenkins (the upcoming PRIVATE LIFE) have taken measures to make the material more palatable for the general audience. For example, Ros (Lily Brazier) is changed from her friend to her sister, Annie’s therapist is removed altogether, and several small tweaks create a lighter tone.
JULIET, NAKED plays it smart by making the audience keep up with the characters on screen instead of going through a setup/payoff in various plot points. However, it needs to walk a fine line in order to keep Annie the focus of the story. Everything revolves around her to facilitate her personal growth and change. For example, the beach scene with Annie/Tucker/Duncan has several shots to present something chaotic in Annie’s eyes. Duncan talking to Annie, with his back to the camera as she is trying to tell him about Tucker. The camera is still focused on her, then cuts to Tucker walking over moving the frame back to Annie in center, her two worlds meeting.
As with most romantic comedies, the movie would fail without chemistry. Byrne and Hawke have a nice rapport that builds as they get past their awkwardness the more time they spend together. O’Dowd carries the bulk of the comedy as his elitism becomes his ultimate self-destruction, responsible for Crowe intercepting his relationship with Annie, both figuratively and literally. The only real downside to the movie is that there could have been further expanse on some story details, as well as Tucker’s past. But it doesn’t ever distract or hinder the flow of the story.
JULIET, NAKED leans on the source material to keep the story honest, and not fall through various rom-com tropes, treating the audience with intelligence and wit. It’s a definite crowd-pleaser, and the audience will walk away fans themselves.
JULIET, NAKED opens in select theaters on Friday (8/31).