Thursday 13 June 2019

Juliet, Naked (2018)

Chris O'Dowd plays Duncan, a middle-aged man who runs a website dedicated to a musician named Tucker Crowe. He's also in a relationship with Annie (Rose Byrne) but it quickly becomes clear that the two of them aren't in the best place. They have stagnated. But things liven up when a package is delivered that contains an unreleased, stripped-down, version of the most famous album by Crowe. Annie and Duncan disagree over the album. Annie writes a negative review on Duncan's site, and that honesty leads to Crowe (Ethan Hawke) getting in touch with her by email. Things get messy, emotionally speaking.

Based on a novel by Nick Hornby, which should come as no surprise as you realise how self-centred and obsessive some of the central characters are (in different ways), Juliet, Naked is a fun and engaging romantic comedy that is more about characters finding happiness within themselves than finding it with other people, although that's not what they're thinking about in the earlier scenes.

Director Jesse Peretz handles everything comfortably enough, keeping everything light enough even as it threatens to descend into darker territory. The first act break-up of Duncan and Annie is bad enough for anyone who was expecting a different kind of film, but when Crowe comes into the picture and describes his turbulent life to Annie, in some frank emails, it becomes clear that he has a lot of baggage that may end up weighing down those within his immediate vicinity. He initially seems to be the weakest of the main characters but that changes when you realise that he might be able to offer Annie something she cannot find elsewhere. Or maybe Annie already has everything she needs.

The script, written by Evgenia Peretz (sister of Jesse), Jim Taylor, and Tamara Jenkins, does enough to entertain anyone who has enjoyed other Hornby novels/adaptations. It manages to make the more selfish moments seem easy to point and laugh at while making the sweeter moments quite effective without being too sickening. There are some good individual lines, although it could have done with a few more scattered throughout.

O'Dowd is a lot of fun in his role, which turns out to be a supporting one. He's an asshole, but he gets away with playing one because, deep down, O'Dowd is a likeable guy. Hawke does very well in his role, one that seems to both embrace the cliches and somehow veer away from them, not through any doing of his own but from the actions and reactions of the others around him. And Byrne is excellent, seeming to make the most of a lead role that doesn't require her to act too silly or have her life endangered by demonic forces. Elsewhere, you get good little turns from Lily Brazier and Phil Davis, among others, but it's the central trio who remain the focus throughout, even when more and more characters threaten to crowd them off the screen.

Overall, a very enjoyable film. Not great, not unmissable, but very enjoyable, especially if you're a fan of the main stars.


You can buy the DVD here.
Americans can get a disc here.

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