Juliet, Naked September 10, 2018  

DIRECTED BY

Jesse Peretz

 

STARRING

Rose Byrne

Ethan Hawke

Chris O'Dowd

Jimmy O'Yang

Megan Dodds

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2018

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 45 Mins.

Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, and Chris O'Dowd in 2018's "Juliet, Naked."

the time on a forum embedded in an oft-visited fan website. Theories regarding what Tucker has been doing since the world saw him last abound. Some say he’s in the midst of plotting his comeback; others posit that he’s been spending time with another one-album wonder, Lauryn Hill.

 

Annie’s boyfriend, an insufferable academic named Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), is part of Tucker's obsessive fanbase. Some might even say he’s its unofficial leader. We’re wont to agree. In the basement of Annie and Duncan’s shared home, located in a pretty town on the British coast, lies both an extensive record collection and a splattering of Tucker-centric posters and iconography. “A shrine,” Annie sarcastically dubs it later in the movie. Naturally, the latter is partial to looking at Tucker as a deterrent in her and Duncan’s 15-year relationship. It is as if she has to share her partner.

 

One afternoon, while home alone, a package is dropped off at Annie and Duncan’s front door. Though the parcel’s addressed to Duncan, Annie opens it anyway. She discovers that a recently released demo compilation, "Juliet, Naked," which features aural sketches of Tucker’s most beloved tracks, has been sent to Duncan by the former’s label. Out of curiosity, Annie slips the CD into her laptop. (An action which will later infuriate her boyfriend.) She finds the music flimsy: she thinks it’s just a cash-hungry recapitulation, offering nothing new or insightful.

 

In an amateur review posted to the aforementioned fan blog, she says so herself, much to Duncan’s chagrin. A few hours later, while at her desk at her dull museum job, Annie receives an email. “You nailed it,” part of it reads. The sender, to her surprise, is Tucker Crowe himself (Ethan Hawke). And the sender, also to her surprise, will become a quasi-pen pal — an irresistible conceit in the romantic comedy that the film will become, to be certain.

 

Through the messages, we learn that Tucker is hardly the glamorous sort of recluse Duncan and his gaggle of webpage-bound superfans would expect. Greying and slightly distended, he is living in a shack that sits directly behind his ex’s country home, in which he takes care of his young son (Azhy Robertson). The kid’s one of many, though — the one-time rocker has an assortment of irked baby mamas and barely known offspring — and this usually serves as the reason given as to why he just can’t make music anymore. Tucker’s shared imperfections intrigue Annie, not just because they strip him of his Duncan-enforced deity status, but also because they invite her to divulge her frustrations with her life and career, too.

 

In Juliet, Naked, which is an adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel, we watch as the Gmail correspondence between this near-40-year-old woman and this has-been metamorphoses into a real-life romance. This comes about when Tucker flies to London to watch his estranged daughter give birth. (He misses it; instead, he has a mild heart attack, which leads to a humorously tense reunion between Tucker, his exes, and his kids in his hospital room.)

 

The film requires us to jump through a horde of hoops to give ourselves over to the plot, which might have come across less contrived if the movie were released around, say, the year the fictional “Juliet” album was released. In those days, when Meg Ryan was still the doyenne of the romantic comedy, the sorts of devices Juliet, Naked uses could be more easily stomached. That was when rom-com clichés hadn’t been quite so hammered into the public imagination, and that was when it was a couple of notches easier to watch trifles such as this one without too strong a feeling of disbelief.

 

Juliet, Naked nearly hits the mark. But it only seems that way because Byrne is excellent, without a hint of hyperbole, in anything: she’s an expressive cynic, as comfortable relaying a one-liner with dry intonation as she is with giving herself over to a tender moment. Hawke is good, too. But the difference lies in that his Tucker is, foundationally, unlikable. A legion of alienated kids and fucked-over exes with whom he only half-heartedly seems to want to make amends back the notion. The ever-charismatic O’Dowd is wasted in a role that requires him to be an unbearable, self-important cognoscente during every scene in which he makes an appearance. There are charms, and laughs, in the movie. But the elaborate, emotion-sidelining plot, epoxied to a romance that doesn’t exactly seem like it could conquer all, prevents it from pushing past the limitations of the rom-com form. C+

D

on’t bring up Tucker Crowe around Annie (Rose Byrne), the heroine of Juliet, Naked (2018). Although she’s never met the man, who is an icon of 1990s alternative rock, he’s a fount of annoyance in the same way a secret nemesis might be. Twenty-five years ago, shortly after releasing his magnum opus, a confessional LP called “Juliet," Tucker mysteriously disappeared in a Jim Sullivan-like fashion. In the decades since, his legend has exponentially grown. His following is cult-sized, but dedicated; many aficionados pass