Movie Review: Juliet, Naked (2018)

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High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Juliet, Naked author Nick Hornby's characters have always been my kind of people.

Like looking in the mirror, whenever I read his books, in the sentences on the pages staring back at me I see not just myself but my friends, family, crushes, and loves – passionate people Jack Kerouac might've called "the mad ones" – who can talk books, movies, music, art, and life for hours.

And that's exactly what Duncan (Chris O'Dowd) was like when Annie (Rose Byrne) first met him in Jesse Peretz's big screen adaptation of Juliet, Naked.

Arriving in her small English seaside community full of ideas from the outside world – the exact same way she had when she returned from university in London to take her dad’s post at a small history museum and care for her younger sister after he grew ill and died – Duncan's passion mirrored her own.

But although the film and media studies professor swept her off her feet early on, now fifteen years later, Annie has started to realize that just like film, she is her boyfriend's second love.

Still hopelessly devoted to early '90s alternative singer/songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose Jeff Buckley meets Jeff Tweedyish breakout breakup album "Juliet" he considers a masterpiece, in his spare time, Duncan has created a shrine to the singer in the couple’s basement as well as a website dedicated to the man and his work.

The ringleader of roughly two hundred middle aged men (as Annie describes in her witty offscreen voice-over), Duncan and his fellow fanatics obsess over Crowe's words and music, while sharing their theories as to where they think he is today after mysteriously walking out of a Minneapolis club two decades earlier in the middle of a set without looking back.

The source of a number of fights between the couple including yet another disagreement when she opens and listens to an obscure cut of the album called "Juliet, Naked" that had been sent to her boyfriend, Annie finally has enough and posts a negative review of "Naked" on his website.

And while it helps precipitate their breakup, ironically this action also winds up causing her to obsess over Tucker as well when the musician sends her an email agreeing with her critique, leading to a back-and-forth correspondence between the two that grows more revealing and flirtatious over time. Fortunately for viewers, gradually life and fate intervenes and the two finally come face-to-face.

Adapted by screenwriters Jim Taylor (Sideways), Tamara Jenkins (The Savages), and Evgenia Peretz (Our Idiot Brother), despite the plot similarities, the utterly charming Juliet, Naked has less in common with the delightfully old-fashioned Pride and Prejudice infused Shop Around the Corner update You've Got Mail and more with both Notting Hill and the two most famous big screen Hornby translations of High Fidelity and About a Boy.

Though obviously a romance in spirit (and just one of several recent releases breathing fresh new life into one of film's very first genres), similar to Marc Turtletaub's 2018 American remake of the Argentine film Puzzle, at its heart, Juliet, Naked is the story of a woman who falls in love and sees herself a bit more clearly when mirrored back in her lover's eyes.

With the Duncan sized obstacle out of her way once and for all, Annie realizes just what it is she does and does not want out of life.

A love letter to Rose Byrne, in Peretz's Juliet, the actress steals the viewer's heart as easily as she always does.

While the passionate dialogue that fills the film's first half drops off a bit in its understandably awkward second half as it's always harder to communicate in person as freely as you had in print, Juliet's vulnerabilities admirably wind up taking us in a direction we did not expect.

Following in the footsteps of other British romantic comedies that fill your screen with irresistibly offbeat characters, Juliet boasts a fine, understated turn from a more laid back than usual Ethan Hawke as well as a terrifically funny O'Dowd, whom, much like Annie is a Hornby character you immediately feel like you know.

As breezy and warm as the nearby seashore, Peretz's Sundance favorite is the film you didn't know you needed to make summer last a little longer.

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