There’s just something about the lyrical beauty of taking another chance on genuine happiness…
While there really isn’t all that much about Juliet, Naked that we haven’t seen before, this delightful Nick Hornsby adaptation manages to succeed in being an incredibly sweet story of redemption and how it’s never too late to truly find love thanks to some exceptionally strong leading performances.
Annie (Rose Byrne) is stuck in a long term relationship Duncan (Chris O’Dowd); an obsessive fan of obscure 90’s rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) who seemingly dropped off the map after some critical acclaim. When the acoustic demo from his 25 year old debut album resurfaces, its release leads to an encounter that will ultimately be life-changing, not only for Annie but for the reclusive rocker himself. Based on the novel by Nick Hornsby, Juliet, Naked is all about second chances.
While it’s not reinventing the wheel Juliet, Naked is a genuine and honest tale of redemption that reminds us that it’s never too late to do right by life in general and trying to find someone or something to love.
Director Jesse Peretz who tends to work primarily in TV is crafting himself a rather underrated dossier as a filmmaker coming off of 2011 very underrated Our Idiot Brother he has a very good sense of the balancing the funny with the sweet and emotionally genuine moments that can come out of a story like this. The narrative has real flow to it and never gets too bogged down in any moments of unnecessary exposition allowing the material to genuinely breathe at its own pace. The script from the team of Evegnia Peretz, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins captures the tone and essence of Nick Hornsby’s work at allows it to unfold incredibly well on the screen. There’s nothing super flashy about anything that we see at work on the screen, but it is all executed with the kind of precision that often goes underappreciated in the cinematic world. Quite frankly, they all let the material stand on its own and they stay out of the way of the actors who are trying to bring their own unique nuances to the screen to make these roles their own.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again here, Rose Byrne simply doesn’t get enough credit out in the pop culture landscape for being as good as she actually is. She can play the full spectrum in so many different ways that it’s a joy to watch and she’s really a strong and sweet anchor to this film. She’s our heroine, and we immediately get behind her adventures from minute one as we laugh with her pain and we fall in love with her stronger moments as she works through this incredibly awkward moment in her life. It’s never an easy thing to face those kinds of crossroads in life, but she brings an honesty to it all that allows you to laugh and even kind of cry with her at the exact same time.
Ethan Hawke is another actor who just doesn’t get enough credit these days either and while he may not necessarily be enjoying a Matthew McConaughey type run of greatness he’s so consistently underrated as a performer and an artist that he’s way too easy too over look. Basically playing a riff of “What if Jeff Buckley (or a myriad of other artists from that era of the 90’s), never got old (or died) and just fell off the musical map” was actually kind of fun. It’s almost like he’s channeling his character from 1993’s Reality Bites as a middle aged stay at home dad, and he’s now finally ready for something new and acknowledging that his old ways just don’t work anymore.
Rounding out the ensemble, Chris O’Dowd as the aging obsessive fan boy was pure gold, quite simply because I’ve known a few (and even resembled one) at various stages of my own personal life. He leans into it with a quirky yet off putting edge which captures the essence of this type of character who just can’t quite accept that people can and do change, but that it’s OK if he doesn’t.
The balance of the ensemble does fine work to be sure, but the movie is carried by Byrne, Hawke and O’Dowd to be sure.
At the end of the day, Juliet, Naked hits that emotional sweet spot for those of us who still remember and adore the 90’s and reminds us that it’s never too late to stop living especially when we have to face up to those parts of our lives that just aren’t going as well as we’d hope.