Directed by Jesse Peretz
Written by Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, Evgenia Peretz
Based on Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornsby
Starring Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd
As Jesse Peretz’s latest film, Juliet, Naked opens, Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd) is neck deep into his Tucker Crowe fan website. Crowe, played by Ethan Hawke mysteriously disappeared during a concert some years before and Thomson uses his passion to keep the myth of Tucker Crowe alive. Thomson comes across as a know-it-all as he whittles away hours in a headset and web cam talking to other fans across the globe.
His live-in girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne) isn’t remotely interested in Duncan’s exploits or the music of Tucker Crowe. She spends her days working for the mayor’s office on a jubilee exhibit project and her nights with her sister, Carrie (Megan Dodds).
A previously unpublished recording put Annie and Duncan at odds and eventually leads Annie to the real Tucker Crowe. This is where director Jesse Peretz shines. Peretz, who started his career as a bass guitarist with The Lemonheads and has since worked on shows like Girls and Nurse Jackie has the right instincts when it comes to the Crowe character. Ethan Hawke carries the loveable grunge look. But it is his tender side to playing the aging hipster without being cynical about it.
Rose Byrne plays off those charms. Much like You’ve Got Mail, the relationship between she and Tucker starts out more as pen pals. Tucker’s situation requires him to head to London where they meet for the first time. Their first meeting is probably the most awkward part of the film as Tucker’s family politics makes the situation schmaltzy.
Part of the problem with this is that the script written by Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor and Evgenia Peretz (Phil Alden Robinson has an uncredited turn as well) is that it is a paint-by-numbers love story. What wakes the film up is of course the performances by our three leads.
Once Annie and Tucker start communicating on a deeper level, Ms. Byrne perks up a bit more. It is a part of the character as Nick Hornsby originally envisioned her. And there’s enough of a relationship difference between Annie and Tucker to make the transition less awkward, again a compliment to Ms. Byrne and Mr. O’Dowd’s acting chops, and comedy chops too.
Chris O’Dowd is best known for his comedy and here his body movements and language is as important as the lines he delivers. Though he is stuck in his man cave, and there is a humorous scene when Tucker happens upon Duncan’s lair, he could be a good match with Annie. But his comedic nerves get the better of him and we’re left with the one relationship that truly works.
Once Ms. Byrne and Mr. Hawke finally settle down with each other, we find that they are what one another needs. The jubilee celebration scene really cements this aspect as an elderly member of the community compliments Annie on her photo, the recollection of the past so clear. Then, the mayor who has just learned who Tucker is, brings him on stage to sing acapella. It’s a beautiful moment that symbolizes what newfound relationships are all about.
The film does a lovely job of painting the dynamics of relationships without necessarily reflecting on the aging process. It layers in the messiness of past, broken relationships, even if some of those moments in the film don’t necessarily work. The cast is first rate and is the primary reason to catch this film.
Rating 2.75 out of 4