Movie fans hold Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke in high regard. They both have many outstanding acting credits on their respective resumes. If you discovered a romantic comedy in which these two starred, you might expect such a film to generate substantial fanfare.
Well, Juliet, Naked somehow flew under-the-radar despite the heaps of critical acclaim it received.
Brief disclaimer: I feel obligated to divulge that the movie’s title is not an indication of any character nudity. There is no character in the movie named Juliet nor does any character fully undress onscreen.
A Modern Spin On A Classic Motif
As I alluded to, the movie is essentially a rom-com about Annie (Byrne) and Tucker (Hawke). But the film also involves the side plots of a love triangle and obsessive fandom. Enter Chris O’Dowd who plays Duncan, Annie’s longtime boyfriend.
Moreover, Duncan founded a blog dedicated to all things Tucker Crowe, an indie-rockstar/cult hero who retreated into reclusion years ago. O’Dowd is hilarious and authentic in his role as a professor by-day, blogboy by-night.
Director Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother) creates and nurtures a funny and sweet transatlantic romantic tale between Annie and Tucker that manifests into a pleasant viewing experience.
The chemistry between Byrne and Hawke feels genuine and both portray their characters with endearing levels of warmth and honesty. Ultimately, the interplay between these two fantastic performers is the film’s greatest strength. The quaint English backdrop is another major asset and certainly adds to the movie’s romantic aura.
While Byrne and Hawke are the stars that deliver the “rom”, O’Dowd is responsible for much of the “com.”
Although we’re typically laughing at (instead of with) his character, he generates plenty of humorous moments as the necessary antagonist in the love story. That being said, once you watch this movie you’ll find that labelling him as an antagonist to Annie and Tucker’s relationship is almost misleading given his affection for both.
Love triangles are one of the primary storytelling vehicles upon which the romantic comedy relies.
The concept feels trite if a movie follows overly familiar patterns. However, Peretz offers a rejuvenated take on this story arc and infuses enough originality to make Juliet, Naked feel like a fresh rom-com experience. The movie’s astute depiction of its hero falling out of and back into love are a credit to its director and its writers.
All-Star Writer’s Room
The outstanding team of Evgenia Peretz (Our Idiot Brother), Tamara Jenkins (Private Life), and Jim Taylor (Oscar winner, Best Adapted Screenplay for Sideways) also deserves plenty of acclaim. The trio adapted Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name and crafted a story about the joys of rediscovering romance after years spent toiling through a dysfunctional partnership.
The clever and affectionate writing along with the emotional depth of Byrne’s performance perfectly coalesce.
The one legitimate gripe with the story is that it’s difficult to envision Annie staying with Duncan for so long. It’s a fair point, but it’s also a staple of the genre. Especially when you consider that the film’s producer, Judd Apatow, who either invented or reinvigorated the R-rated rom-com.
Past Apatow projects like Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or The Five Year Engagement all chronicle similarly confounding relationships and convey that love often defies any sort of rationality. However, Juliet, Naked flips the narrative of these other films and focuses on a female protagonist who leaves an emotionally negligent partner and pursues a romantic relationship with a flawed but caring man.
I don’t understand why Annie would date Duncan for fifteen years. After all, he’s spent his life tirelessly examining an obscure indie rock folk-hero’s forgone career. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the writers depict Duncan as a “painful but recognizable” figure or a sympathetic villain.
We all have obsessive and eccentric people in our lives that we love unconditionally.
Ultimately, Annie’s initial relationship makes her journey more compelling. By approaching Annie’s floundering relationship with empathy and sincerity, the writers build a story that is hopeful and refreshing.
Late to the party? No worries. Catch up on the previous installments of the Rom-Com Renaissance below: