January 19, 2018

ShowbuzzDaily Sundance Review: “Juliet, Naked”


JULIET, NAKED (no distrib):  Every Sundance has a title or two that isn’t particularly “indie,” other than by the fact that its stars aren’t hugely bankable.  These aren’t the films that set critical hearts aflutter, but they can be worthwhile all the same.  That’s the case with the likable Juliet, Naked, which continues Nick Hornby’s remarkably fruitful relationship with the movies, both as underlying author (which he is here, following About A Boy and High Fidelity [we will never speak of the American Fever Pitch]), and as a screenwriter in his own right (An Education, Wild, Brooklyn).

Hornby doesn’t choose to adapt his own books for the screen, and the script for Jesse Peretz’s film is credited to Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor and Evgenia Peretz (early Sundance materials indicate that other writers may have been involved along the way).  They’ve pruned the novel into an intelligent, engaging comic romance for audiences interested in the love lives of characters past their first flush of youth.  As the presence of Judd Apatow as a producer may suggest, the adaptation also emphasizes the lighter, less difficult parts of Hornby’s story.

In both its written and filmed forms, the story hinges on a delicious irony:  fanboy academic Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) worships the vanished 1990s rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), but it’s Duncan’s own skeptical girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne) who wins Tucker’s affections when he reads her pan of the demo tape version of his one and only legendary album on Duncan’s website.  Annie, a museum curator in a small English town, has been living a muffled life with Duncan, and she finds herself through her e-mail correspondence with Tucker and then when she meets him in person once he’s traveled to England for family business.

There are a lot of interesting ideas circling around here, about the relationship between artists, their art, and their fans; the way that online communication has brought us closer together and more distant than ever; the definition of “family”; and whether Annie’s compulsion to mother (even though she has no children of her own) is entirely healthy.  Some of them surface from time to time, but ultimately Juliet, Naked is more interested in being adorable than provocative.  There’s a hole at the center of Annie’s bond with Tucker, because the movie wants us to see her as becoming increasingly mature through the relationship, but Tucker isn’t all that much more developed a man-child than Duncan is.

Luckily, much of Juliet, Naked is indeed adorable.  Rose Byrne has been primed for a lead role for quite a while now, and she makes Annie believable and charming.  Chris O’Dowd has all the biggest laughs and makes the most of them.  Ethan Hawke barely even has to act (although he does):  the photos of his actual 1990s stardom on Duncan’s wall juxtaposed with his current self is its own version of Boyhood.  Peretz keeps it all smoothly running.  Composer Nathan Larson merits special credit for convincingly creating the Tucker Crowe songs that Hornby only had to describe in the novel.

In the end, Juliet, Naked is more Top 40s than punk rock, but it has its share of hummable tunes.  With the right distributor and marketing, it should make quite a few fans of its own.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."