D: Jesse Peretz / 97m
Cast: Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd, Azhy Robertson, Lily Brazier, Ayoola Smart, Phil Davis
For Duncan Thomson (O’Dowd), there is only one recording artist of any merit: Tucker Crowe (Hawke), a singer-songwriter who twenty years before walked away from a promising career as a musician after making a highly regarded first album called Juliet. Duncan has set up a blog site dedicated to Crowe and his short-lived career, and this takes up most of his spare time. Which doesn’t leave much room for his partner, Annie (Byrne). Having been together for fifteen years, Annie is beginning to realise that Duncan isn’t going to change, and things such as having children, or cutting back on the time he spends in Crowe-land, aren’t going to happen. When Duncan receives a CD that contains demo versions of the tracks on Juliet, the fact that she listens to it first causes a row between them. This leads to Annie posting a disparaging review of the demo versions on Duncan’s blog, which in turn leads to Annie receiving a response from Tucker himself. They begin corresponding (a fact that Annie keeps to herself), and soon find they’re able to be really honest with each other about their lives. And then Tucker reveals that he’s coming to London…
An adaptation of the novel by Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked is one of the most easy-going romantic comedies of recent years. Treading a delicate path between meandering introspection and trifling whimsy, it’s a movie that could be the very cinematic definition of flimsy, so thin is its storyline and narrative arc. It’s also a movie that will have you wondering out loud about the characters and their pasts, and how they’ve come to be leading their lives now, from Tucker’s slacker muso and proto-dad, to Annie’s emotionally doused museum manager. Both Tucker and Annie seem to be treading water, waiting for someone or something to come along and free them from the traps they’ve fallen into. Tucker has allowed his talent to fray to nothing through fear of responsibility, while Annie has gone the opposite route and allowed responsibility to wither her creativity. They’re practically perfect for each other, albeit in an anodyne, nondescript fashion that makes their inevitable romance as cautious as they both are with everything else. Only Duncan remains true to himself throughout, even if he is thoroughly self-absorbed and operating entirely out of self-interest. Selfish he may be, but at least he’s doing what he really wants.
Thankfully, and despite the often vapid nature of the whole venture, the movie is rescued from being overwhelmingly twee by a trio of performances that elevate the material and make the characters more than the slavishly opaque stereotypes that the script – by Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins – seems determined to make them. Byrne makes Annie gentle yet resilient, put upon perhaps but not entirely a victim, and willing to take a stand when she needs to. Hawke plays Tucker as a man adrift from his own life but also willing to make amends for the mistakes he’s made; it’s a carefully crafted portrayal that Hawke pulls off with ease. O’Dowd appears to have the hardest task of all, that of making Duncan more than the arrogant, annoying arse that he clearly is, but there’s no small amount of pathos in his performance, and Duncan emerges as more rounded than expected. Elsewhere, Tucker’s family issues occupy a good deal of the running time, and though they feel very much like the movie’s token dramatic thread, they at least offset the predictable nature of the romantic elements. Peretz directs with an emphasis on keeping things light and airy, and succeeds in making both the romance and the comedy as agreeable as possible, but in the end, at the expense of achieving anything new or different.
Rating: 7/10 – so thin it’s almost diaphanous, Juliet, Naked is a tribute to the efforts of its cast and director in making a movie that borders constantly on being insubstantial without actually crossing that line; engaging enough to be enjoyable without being anywhere near memorable, it’s a light-hearted tale told with a sprinkling of playfulness that makes it all the more tolerable, and on this occasion, that’s entirely okay.