'Juliet, Naked' Review: Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne and Chris O'Dowd sparkle to elevate a Nick Hornby classic
Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne and Chris O'Dowd shine in this indie rom-com that won over critics at Sundance
Acquired by Lionsgate at Sundance this year, 'Juliet, Naked' is a charming romantic comedy about second chances and the curveballs that life throws your way.
Starring the delightful Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd and Ethan Hawke, this rom-com is everything viewers want — funny, relatable, charming and unpredictable. Directed by Jesse Peretz, produced by Judd Apatow and based on a 2009 novel by Nick Hornby, 'Juliet, Naked' is reminiscent of some of the best romantic comedies of our time such as 'Notting Hill', 'High Fidelity' and 'You've Got Mail'.
'Juliet, Naked' follows Annie (played by Rose Byrne), a museum curator in a small English seaside town stuck in a long-term relationship with Duncan (played by Chris O'Dowd), a film professor and obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe (played by Ethan Hawke), who hasn't released new music in over two decades.
Their 15-year relationship has been stunted by Duncan's crazed infatuation with the forgotten rocker. Thankfully, the insufferable Duncan is not our protagonist, which is something we are used to seeing from O'Dowd with his charming demeanor and goofy smile. Instead of 'Juliet, Naked' taking the typical romantic comedy trope of a man not realizing what he has until it’s gone, it does the opposite and complete turns it on its head.
One day before Duncan arrives home from work, Annie opens a piece of his mail and inside of the envelope just so happens to be an unedited, never-before-heard demo of his idol Tucker Crowe's called Juliet Naked. Not only is Duncan furious that Annie listened to it before him, but he's even more enraged that she doesn't think it's the tragic masterpiece that he does.
In a moment of anger, Annie posts a scathing review of the demo on Duncan's website, which is of course dedicated to all things Tucker Crowe.
The film then takes a turn when the real-life Tucker Crowe (who has been off the grid for decades) emails Annie about her review, saying he couldn't agree with her more. Now a worn out, middle-aged man living behind his ex-wife's house in upstate New York, the two strike up a fast friendship a la Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in 'You've Got Mail'.
They make an instant connection that seems far deeper than what she has with her boyfriend of 15 years. Without knowing about Annie’s secret correspondence with Tucker, Duncan leaves her anyway for another woman, opening up the possibility that Annie and Tucker can actually be something more than just platonic pen-pals.
Thereafter, director Jesse Peretz jumps back and forth between England and New York, following this blossoming love story between the unlikely pair. This is when we get to see who Tucker Crowe truly is, a tortured rocker who gave up music because of a dark past and lifelong regrets. Hawke brings the perfect combination of self-pity and egotism to the role, making us both love and pity this extremely flawed character.
Besides Hawke's stellar performance, the heart of the film is Byrne's portrayal of Annie. Her relatable and kind nature makes audiences root for her in hopes she doesn't reconcile with Duncan, whom she was too good for anyway. And while the character of Duncan is absolutely infuriating, O'Dowd does a fantastic job portraying the cowardly and self-involved fan-boy.
Just when you think this rom-com is going to go down the sweet yet one-dimensional road that so many others have, instead it delves into the intricacies of family, forgiveness and new beginnings.
'Juliet Naked' will bow in a limited August 17 release, followed by a national release August 31