The Academy Award nominated writer, Nick Hornby, hones his romantic and comedic skills in “Juliet, Naked” as Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, and Evgenia Peretz create the hilariously off-kilter screenplay, starring Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, and Chris O’Dowd. Jesse Peretz directs the film which focuses on Annie (Byrne) whose relationship with Duncan (O’Dowd) is failing thanks to his consuming hobby and interest in the elusive musician Tucker Crowe (Hawke). Just by chance, Annie writes a scathing review about a lost Tucker Crowe album only to connect with the star. Their long-distance communications become much more than that and Duncan may find himself kicked to the curb.
We meet Annie in a small town in England as she talks to the viewers by way of narration, describing her current situation. We find out her father passed away and now fills his shoes running the historical society. We also are privy to her dissatisfaction with her long-term relationship with Duncan and why. His obsession with and over-analyzing Tucker Crowe’s life and music provides plenty of comic relief for the viewer, but doesn’t leave much time for Annie and two have drifted apart. Annie and Duncan agreed to never have children, but Annie’s tune is changing, but with no communication occurring, it seems there’s no hope. When Annie discovers the lost album “Juliet, Naked,” and Duncan discovers a new colleague at the university, the stories diverge, and we follow them both along their new rocky and frequently funny new path.
The primary story is seen through Annie’s eyes, knowing her thoughts and emotions as well as her written communication via email to Tucker. These wonderfully creative thoughts expressed in emails cut to each of their cores, finding safety in writing their honest emotions to someone thousands of miles away. We understand her new-found diversion and secretly root for them to connect, but Tucker lives in the States and has a lot on his plate, too! The humor and anticipation builds as Annie and Duncan go their separate ways and Tucker then enters the picture, much to Duncan’s disbelief.
We are also privy to Duncan’s antics and witness Tucker’s crazy and chaotic family life. The dramatic elements are always there as this film delves deeply into relationships and how they fail, but never, ever does this film forget it’s a comedy. The use of uncomfortable situations that occur in the drama of life also create funny situations that connect you more deeply with the characters. What makes this film different and more relevant is that it integrates today’s technology and communication as well as all the different family trees structures possible.
Byrne has always been the supporting actress in films, and a strong one, but this time she proves that she can carry a film as the lead. From “Bridesmaids” to “Spy,” Byrne has a brilliant sense of comedic timing and now she is able to shine brightly. Of course, O’Dowd, also from “Bridesmaids,” is hilarious with his delivery and his seemingly off the cuff comments as he plays the oblivious professor and boyfriend. But it is Hawke that is truly surprising as he offers an ingeniously funny performance, laughing as much at himself as his character’s situations. He’s as real as he is witty, allowing us to see yet another side of this accomplished actor who’s getting to really show his abilities this year.
“Juliet, Naked” takes the rom-com genre to a refreshingly new level that I haven’t seen since Harry and Sally met. The film never loses its pace or its focus while it is relevant and makes you believe in romance in real life. It was a favorite at the 2018 Sundance film festival and stands the test of time, remaining a favorite film of the year.