Jesse Peretz’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel follows a 15-year relationship on the brink of collapse, as there’s a third person in the picture… Classic Hornby-esque hero Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is an emotionally stunted man-child who obsessively runs a fansite dedicated to his reclusive indie music hero Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). His long-suffering partner Annie (Rose Byrne) unexpectedly begins to correspond via email with his American idol and when Duncan can’t keep it in his pants, she decides to meet the past-it rocker when he takes a transatlantic trip to Blighty.
It’s clear very early on in the runtime that this won’t bother High Fidelity or About A Boy as the Hornby adaptations to beat, even if High Fidelity and Juliet, Naked do share many a thematic strand. And while Juliet, Naked refreshingly gender flips standard proceedings, as we witness events through the eyes of the sympathetic and refreshingly unneedy female protagonist (as opposed to the self-centred male character whose smugness is all-too-frequently casually excused as boyish charm), the end result just isn’t all that memorable. The Disneyfied Britishness doesn’t help, as the mood and dialogue often feel like an American’s earnest estimation of how quaint the English are, as they saunter about their picturesque seaside towns and inviting London streets looking charmingly befuddled. Suffice to say that this will provoke many a nosebleed for certain audience members; but twee though it often is, if Juliet, Naked catches you in the right mood, you might find it isn’t completely devoid of charm. Peretz doesn’t grasp Hornby’s shrewd observational knack for picking apart the messier aspects of relationships but the filmmaker does capture the author’s signature blend of snug-yet-aching melancholia when it comes to loneliness and regret. Ultimately, it’s the cast’s diligent efforts – especially a note-perfect Rose Byrne – that ensure the film isn’t the worst thing you could pick to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Juliet, Naked | Directed by Jesse Peretz (UK / US, 2018), with Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd. Starts November 15.
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