Classic farce and touching drama

Underneath it all, Juliet, Naked is a charming rom-com

Juliet, Naked (photo credit: Courtesy)
Juliet, Naked
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd.
Hebrew title: Juliet, Ha’girsa ha’iroma.
105 minutes. In English In this era of comic superhero movies, it may seem as if intelligent romantic comedies are a thing of the past, but just when most discriminating moviegoers have all but despaired of seeing anything truly enjoyable on the big screen, along comes the charming, very funny and moving Juliet, Naked.
As soon as I heard about this film, I had high hopes for it, and it doesn’t disappoint. Juliet, Naked is based on a novel by Nick Hornby, whose brilliant books are page turners but always have something deeper woven into the story. Not coincidentally, several of them have been adapted into fine films, notably High Fidelity and About a Boy.
The movie, which combines classic farce and touching drama, tells the story of Annie, gracefully played by Rose Byrne, who is the reserved director of a museum in a seaside British town and the dutiful girlfriend of Duncan (the phenomenal Chris O’Dowd, who was in Bridesmaids and The Sapphires). Duncan is one of those annoying hipster know-it-alls – a type that is all around us but that is rarely represented in fiction – who places an inordinately high value on being aware of every nuance of pop culture and an inordinately low value on being a mensch. Annie is ambivalent about their decision not to have children, but Duncan is just fine.
What keeps him busy is his obsession with Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), a 90s-era American singer/songwriter who made what Duncan and other aficionados he chats with on his blog consider the greatest album of all time – and then disappeared without a trace.
Duncan gets a hold of a stripped-down version of Crowe’s masterpiece and through a complex set of circumstances that are not all that implausible in the digital age, Annie makes contact with Tucker himself. He turns out to be a broke guy with a gut, who has children all over the world with different mothers and is finally trying to be a good father to his youngest, Jackson (Azhy Robertson). Ethan Hawke is the perfect actor to embody Crowe’s sly charisma. This rock star’s pretty-boy looks may have gone to seed, but he’s still oddly attractive.
The bond that develops between Annie and her lover’s idol is strange and compelling. We all know people like these characters, and their authenticity makes this infinitely more satisfying than a typical rom-com, where a perfect male appears the second the heroine has a fight with her boyfriend. All three of the main characters are flawed and alternately infuriating and winning. The famous rocker aspect enhances the movie’s main theme, which is about people not being quite who you think they are, and the perils of encountering anyone you idolize.
The three lead actors are extraordinarily good, and O’Dowd in particular is able to take a character who sounds like the worst kind of narcissistic jerk and to show how his intensity can be attractive.
Juliet, Naked was directed by Jesse Peretz, who made the very funny film Our Idiot Brother several years ago, and whose name is familiar to anyone who reads the credits on television shows. He has directed many episodes of the best shows, including Girls, Orange is the New Black, and, most recently, the quirky Netflix original series, GLOW. Like Our Idiot Brother, Juliet, Naked was co-written by his sister, Evgenia Peretz (the other writers on the project were Tamara Jenkins, who made The Savages a few years ago, and Jim Taylor, who won an Oscar for Sideways). These writers have skillfully adapted this offbeat novel and preserved its spirit, while making a few changes necessary to compress the story into the movie’s 105-minute running time.
The film is so much fun that I actually wished it were longer – something I don’t think I’ve ever said before, since I tend to think most movies are too long – because it was just so great to spend time with these characters.
A few sections of the movie feel a bit rushed, especially when Annie and Tucker’s relationship is blossoming and when Annie finally starts changing her life.
But in the end, the movie works, and its sophistication and heart shine through.