“Juliet, Naked” is too mild for me. While there are some good elements to be appreciated, these moments do not click well together without much comic synergy, and I was left with empty feeling even though I was amused to some degree during my viewing. It is not an awful waste of time at least, but it is rather unimpressive despite the considerable efforts from its good cast and crew, and it feels more disappointing as I think more about it.
Based on Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, the movie revolves around an unlikely relationship coming into the mundane daily life of a British woman named Annie Platt (Rose Byrne). There was a time when she had lots of dream and aspiration as studying in London, but she had to return to her seaside hometown when her father became ill and needed to be taken care of by her, and she has managed her father’s local museum since her father passed away some years ago. As duly preparing a trivial anniversary event with her lesbian sister, she is reminded again of how unhappy and dissatisfied she has been, but it looks like she will remain stuck in her hometown for the rest of her life, and she does not get much consolation from her boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), who has lived with her for several years but is more like a longtime guest in her house as mostly occupied with music and movies.
While teaching movies and TV dramas in a local college, Duncan runs a website dedicated to the life and career of an obscure American musician named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who had a fair share of fans during the 1990s but then suddenly walked away from his spotlight in the middle of an ongoing concert. As frequently wondering about what happened to Crowe after that point, Duncan often discusses Crowe’s life and career with other ardent fans via the Internet, and his obsession with Crowe is clearly shown from his small private room, which is filled with many records and other stuffs associated with Crowe.
Annie does not care much about her boyfriend’s enthusiasm toward music, but then she becomes curious when she opens a package delivered to their place and then finds a CD inside the package. Labeled as “Juliet, Naked”, the CD contains the demo recording of one of Crowe’s notable albums, and she listens to the music for a while. Although the music is not exactly good, it somehow makes some impression on her, and she comes to write a frank comment to Duncan’s review on that demo recording, but then something quite unexpected happens. Crowe, who has led a plain life in a shabby garage right next to the house belonging to one of his ex-wives, directly contacted her via e-mail, and they become online friends as they talk more and more with each other through their e-mails.
As their relationship is gradually developed into something not so far from “84 Charing Cross Road” (1987), Annie suggests to Crowe that they should meet each other someday, and they soon come to get a chance for that. When one of Crowe’s children, who has lived in London, is about to give birth to her baby, Crowe decides to go to London along with his young son, and Annie is certainly ready to meet him, but then there comes a minor problem not long after Crowe and his son arrive in London.
Anyway, Crowe and Annie manage to meet each other in the end, and Annie sees how messy and complicated Crowe’s life has been as watching him surrounded by a bunch of people in his life including his pregnant daughter. His pregnant daughter wants her father to reconcile with someone important in his life, but he is reluctant to do that, and he only comes to show his negative sides in front of Annie and others.
Crowe later goes to Annie’s hometown along with her and his son, and this certainly draws the attention from Duncan, who recently leaves her house due to his affair with a fellow faculty member of his college. When Annie introduces him to Crowe, Duncan initially does not believe that his idol is right in front of him, but he subsequently comes to realize his mistake, and, what do you know, we soon see him trying to ingratiate himself with Crowe for getting to know more about Crowe, who is not so willing to talk a lot about his music.
Now this is surely a situation with some comic potentials, but the adapted screenplay by Tamra Jenkins, Tim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, and Evagenia Peretz fails to develop it further while only meandering along its flat narrative, and its last act fizzles as ending the story too conveniently. In addition, its main characters are mostly flat and bland due to weak characterization, and that flawed aspect is not entirely covered by the competent comic performances from its lead performers. While Rose Byrne, who is no stranger to comedy as shown from “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Neighbors” (2014), deftly handles a few funny moments in the film, Ethan Hawke is suitably cast as an old slacker who comes to recognize that he really needs to grow up, and Chris O’Dowd, who drew my attention via a supporting turn in “Bridesmaids”, is effortless as your typical self-absorbed guy.
Directed by Jesse Peretz, “Juliet, Naked” is not wholly without charm and laughs, but it is two or three steps down “About a Boy” (2002) and other recommendable films adapted from Hornby’s novels. While those films engaged, amused, and touched me a lot, “Juliet, Naked” just amused me from time to time without much impression, and I must tell you that now I really feel like revisiting “About a Boy” or “High Fidelity” (2000) as soon as possible.