Six of Nick Hornby’s novels have been adapted into films. Something about this enduring British author’s work seems to lend itself to the realm of cinema, even transcending continental boundaries – his 1995 book ‘High Fidelity’ was transplanted from London to Chicago for its 2000 movie outing, starring John Cusack and Jack Black. The latest of Hornby’s novels to make it to the big screen is Juliet, Naked, which sees a bickering couple reevaluate their life together as it becomes clear one party is more invested in his favourite musician than their relationship.
The couple in question are Annie (Rose Byrne) and Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) – they live in a small seaside town, where Annie runs the local museum and Duncan teaches at the local college. The third person in their relationship is indie musician Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who mysteriously vanished from the public eye some 20 years previous, following the release of his well-received break-up album ‘Juliet’. Duncan has dedicated his whole adulthood to Crowe’s music, and as well as having an unnerving shrine to him in the house he shares with girlfriend Annie, also runs a fansite where he discusses theories about Crowe’s disappearance with like-minded fans. Somewhat inexplicably, Annie has been with Duncan and tolerated his obsession for 15 years, despite Duncan repeatedly complaining that she doesn’t ‘get it’. One has to imagine Annie has the patience of a saint for putting up with this boorish man-child – particularly when, following the unearthing of a supposedly lost Tucket Crowe album (a demo entitled ‘Juliet, Naked’), Duncan becomes even more of a dickhead.
Spurned by her lover, Annie posts a negative review of the Crowe album online, and is surprised when the musician himself gets in touch with her via email, seemingly amused by her critical analysis. The pair strike up an online flirtation in which their share their woes and creeping fears they’ve wasted most of their adult lives. It becomes apparent that Tucker has failed multiple times as a father and husband, while Annie – who swore off having children so she could be smug, or something like that – now wants a baby. Inevitably Tucker decides to visit England, and arranges to meet with Annie, who gets to experience for herself the incredible production that is his life.
Director Jesse Peretz is best known for his work on American television, having directed episodes of Girls and GLOW, but previously made good-natured comedy Our Idiot Brother. This film has a similar earnestness to it, reflecting on the trials and tribulations of familial ties and the idea of personal legacy. Byrne and Hawke are well-suited too and have a charming rapport, but Chris O’Dowd gets short shrift playing the hugely irritating Duncan. Even a soulful rendition of The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ performed by Hawke isn’t enough to elevate the meagre storyline or push past the navel-gazing tweeness of it all, and the cloying ‘Britishness’ of the dialogue and settings reveal the film as some American approximation of England, with little connection to the real thing. It produces a strange sort of artificial sweetness, and ultimately does little to stay in your mind long after the end credits roll.