Review: 'Juliet, Naked', Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke And Chris O'Dowd Charm

Roadside Attractions
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, director Jesse Peretz and writers Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor, and Tamara Jenkins take the characters of Juliet, Naked on a journey of love, doubt, and self-realization. The film is an above-average rom-com that takes care to focus on the depth of its characters and the ways in which they find themselves stuck in their lives.

Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) has spent most of his life passionately regaling anyone with the story of Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), famed rock musician who disappeared from the public eye and hasn’t made music for 25 years. A wall shrine, a blog, and theories about Crowe’s whereabouts are what keeps Duncan distant from his girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne).

But Juliet, Naked is about more than Duncan’s fixation on Tucker. It’s really about Annie, a woman who’s only recently realized she’s spent the better part of 15 years doing things she doesn’t really want to do. She’s also spent many of her years with Duncan, a man who disrespects her and would rather rage about his obsession than listen to his girlfriend. Annie runs a history museum, believing it to be only temporary following the passing of her father. And while she helped raise her younger sister with thoughts of never wanting to have kids, Annie finds herself regretting the decision.

After a demo CD finds its way to Duncan, Annie, fed up with his inability to focus on anything but Tucker, writes a scathing review of the album in the comments section of his blog. This begins a back-and-forth communication with none other than Tucker Crowe himself, who also finds himself lost in a life that’s spiraled out of his control. When he makes his way to London to visit his estranged daughter, Lizzie (Ayoola Smart), Annie and Tucker enter each other’s lives in a more significant way.

A part of the story sets up an intriguing argument (one that ultimately goes nowhere, mind you) regarding the relationship between an artist, their body of work, and fans. While artists certainly have a distinct ownership over their own work, a fan’s relationship to said work is also meaningful in different ways. In Juliet, Naked, both takes are extreme and speak to the mindset of each character. Tucker wants nothing to do with his past life, the music he put out, or the legacy he left behind after an incident leaves him spiraling. Meanwhile, Tucker’s album has meant very much to Duncan over the course of his life. It’s an argument that demands more insight and isn’t quite given its due in the film.

Juliet, Naked is quite charming, thanks to its wonderful cast, and exudes a sense of romanticism before delving into more meaty emotions and themes. It’s a rom-com, yes, but it’s just as interested in peeling the layers that cloak Annie and Tucker. There’s a sense of mystery surrounding Tucker, but that doesn’t last for very long before he opens up in his emails to Annie. The emails are an effective way of creating a sense of familiarity prior to the characters meeting each other physically. The film also embraces the fear of starting over, of facing off against everything you want for yourself and living in comfort. It’s hard to take that leap, especially later in life when, more often than not, it feels like it’s too late.

It’s endearing that both Annie and Tucker face regret regarding certain decisions and don’t judge each other or go on about how they could have done things differently. They bring out the best in each other and are reflections of the people they could be rather than who they have been. Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke bring so much heart to their roles and the film takes care to focus on Rose’s wants for her personal life and her career. There’s a sense of maturity and continuous hope that embodies the film.

The person who gets the shorter end of the stick in this not-really-love-triangle is Chris O’Dowd’s Duncan. Duncan is meant to be the guy you don’t want to root for and who Annie shouldn’t be with, and that’s absolutely the case here. He’s the “obsessed fan” who seems to lack the same sense of self-awareness, but he is also not as uncomfortable with his life. O’Dowd’s comedic timing and charisma are what really help his character remain memorable, even when he is acting out.

Juliet, Naked is a simple story lovingly wrapped in genuine discussions about life. And it’s these discussions that really fuel the film and round out its rougher edges. The cast is wonderful and really elevate the material and Byrne, especially, is a standout. It’s a little lighter on the romance than expected, but there’s enough to satisfy while keeping the focus on individual character arcs. All in all, you’ll find yourself walking away from the film feeling a little bit lighter inside.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5