A sleepy, seaside British village might not be the most universally relatable location for a film, but even within the picturesque setting there’s room for personal disappointment. In Juliet, Naked we see that relationships are not always what they seem, even by the beach.
In a very Nick Horby-esque plot (based on a Hornby novel), music is a major factor in Annie and Duncan’s lives. Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is obsessed with American singer Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), to the detriment of his relationship with girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne). “Obsessed” is not an exaggeration here, as nearly every moment outside of his teaching schedule Duncan dedicates to Tucker. Analyzing different live tracks. Hunting down new rumors. He even runs an online forum for the other obsessive fans of this long-forgotten musician. When Annie’s patience for Duncan’s obsession runs thin, she takes to venting anonymously on Duncan’s forums. The petty exercise does not please Duncan, but it does somehow attract one person who agrees with Annie wholeheartedly: Tucker Crowe himself. Through a series of trans-Atlantic emails, Tucker and Annie develop a flirtatious friendship, which eventually leads to meeting in-person in London.
If Juliet, Naked aims to accomplish anything, it’s to comprehensively destroy any Hollywood notions of meet-cutes, serendipitous romance, and idolatry. Everything from the seaside to meeting a rock star should point towards a whirlwind romance, but it isn’t that simple. Life is clunky. Love doesn’t just fall into your lap like that. Sometimes your romantic targets are imperfect. Sometimes you need to work on yourself before you’re ready to move forward with life.
None of these lessons are new or novel, but they do bear repeating. Perhaps it would be easier to learn these lessons in Juliet, Naked if anyone was living with passion. Annie and Tucker just seem to be bumbling through life, and for a few moments they bump into each other. There’s no intention in their paths, just momentary escape. This may be true to life, but it doesn’t make for an especially engaging film.
That isn’t to say that Juliet, Naked is poorly made. In fact, all of the performances are spot-on, and casting Hawke as the washed-up musician gives us a lovely excuse to revisit his youthful handsome face from his Reality Bites years. For anyone of my generation looking to simultaneously wallow in nostalgia and feel old (two activities that go hand-in-hand), it’s a great way to revisit the feeling of 1990s music and fashions without encountering someone who was born in the 1990s.
The low-stakes world within Juliet, Naked brings a certain comfort. However, the lack of cinematic investment in telling a story of romance or heartbreak leaves me wanting more escapism.