A strong cast highlights a comedy about obsessing over things that don’t matter and allowing things that do to slip through your fingers. Of all of Hornby’s works, Juliet, Naked is by far handled with the most care. Lightly funny while packed with melancholy along the way.
I decided to drag my wife on a cross-country, nine-state jaunt, to see Pearl Jam in Tulsa, OK, Lincoln, NE & Austin, TX, using planes, trains trolleys and automobiles to travel 3,721 miles until we finally made it back home. I have collected hard to find factory-sealed vinyl LP’s on e-bay to some hole-in-the-wall vinyl shops in East Las Vegas, for records that won’t even be played. I’ve debated the hidden meanings of Spin the Black Circle and if Alive was really about Eddie Vedder’s childhood with Jammers online. A quarter of the way into Juliet, Naked, Duncan (the awkwardly funny Chris O’Dowd) tells his long-time girlfriend, Annie, “Tucker has a new album and I don’t want to spend my time with someone who doesn’t get it,” while sitting in his office that is plastered with Tucker Crowe posters, fliers, albums and other hard to find memorabilia. That self-absorbed comment alone cured me of any more fanatic behaviour.
Juliet, Naked refers to Tucker Crowe’s first and only album before he disappeared from the spotlight 25 years later. A new demo version of the album has been released and now Annie (played by Rose Byrne) is taken aback by Duncan’s selfish comment. She logs onto Duncan’s fan site dedicated to Tucker and tells them, “The new album is a naked attempt to squeeze a few more quid out of a long dead career.” She surprisingly gets an email back from someone claiming to be the man himself. Tucker tells her that, “she nailed it. Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Remember that line from Aaron Sorkin in American President? “Men liked being insulted by women; it makes them feel loved.” Tucker (played apologetically pathetic by Ethan Hawke) and Annie start an online relationship. Think Notting Hill, without the glamour, and Hawke’s Tucker is the Julia Roberts character except she is now washed up and living in her ex’s garage.
The film works because of the marriage between the source material and the film’s director, original band member & bassist for The Lemonheads, Jesse Peretz (who left the band to start a film career just before their breakout album, It’s a Shame about Ray, in the early 90s). When you have a book from the author of High Fidelity and a director who knows the highs (and particularly the lows) of the music world, you can see how the film is handled with greater care than most other Hornby’s adaptations (even if the ending was changed to fit into today’s modern feminist ideals, justifiably so).
Juliet, Naked is very well cast with the right actors in their roles. O’Dowd does offer most of this film’s rare laugh-out moments as the lovable, but self-absorbed, type who doesn’t know what he is risking by obsessing over things that don’t matter. Hawke’s character is the opposite side of that coin: he knows what it is like to lose things that matter the most. He adds some light humour to a role that is filled with regret. Forget his thoughts on comic book movies. For the past decade, Hawke has carved out a niche for himself in Hollywood. He has been nominated for multiple academy awards for acting in supporting roles (Training Day, Boyhood), and writing (Before Midnight, Before Sunset), while picking interesting, smaller film projects as the lead (Good Kill, Born to Be Blue, First Reformed, In the Valley of Violence). Yeah, you have some clunkers or obvious money grabs in there, but you can’t call his roles “interchangeable” in any way. They are varied, layered, and unique. Whatever you think of Hawke or his roles, they are never boring. Tucker Crowe is one of the very best of his career.
The film, though, rests on Rose Byrne’s shoulders, being the glue that holds the film together. She has a natural comic timing and the dramatic chops to handle some of the movie’s most tender moments. Acting is listening; she does that with grace when letting Tucker tell her why he left his music career behind.
Juliet, Naked’s strong cast highlights a film that is never overdone. When you break it down, at its core, it is about obsessing about things that don’t matter and allowing things that do to slip through your fingers. Lightly funny, while packed with melancholy along the way
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.