Juliet, Naked takes a familiar premise and presents it to the audience under a veneer of British accents, a sunny, English, seaside town, and Ethan Hawke at his most witty. Does the film give the audience anything new? Unfortunately, no, however, most of the familiarity is mitigated by the sparkling performances that make the characters relatable, easily accessible, and yet mysteriously intangible. If anything, the characters are the driving force of this story and while it’s mostly okay, it’s also kind of sad.
Annie (Rose Byrne) is Duncan’s (Chris O’Dowd) long-suffering girlfriend. They’ve been together for fifteen years in this sleepy seaside town somewhere in England that is only a train ride away from London. Annie longs for something more. She’s been stuck in this town since her parents died and she’s been taking care of her younger sister Roz. Duncan has no desire for anything more. He’s content. He also happens to be madly obsessed with Tucker Crowe (Hawke), a revolutionary musician who fell off the face of the earth over twenty years ago.
Tucker is a mess. He’s spent most of his life drifting and shirking off parental responsibilities to his many children. His youngest, Jackson, is a chance to set things right, but when Annie and Tucker cross paths and begin a trans-Atlantic relationship, both of them have to reconcile their lives and figure out where they fit in the world and whether they fit with each other.
While I say that the film takes a familiar premise and rehashes it, I will say that despite that, there is something raw about Juliet, Naked. Perhaps this rawness comes from the idea of second chances and how they come about and how one can embrace the chances. Perhaps it’s the way the film ends. There’s a note of realism in how this relationship between Tucker and Annie is not fully resolved by the movie’s end. It bucks the trope of romantic comedies that requires the story to be resolved and in a happy place by the end. Juliet, Naked gives the audience a nugget of hope but we’re not certain that the final couple will indeed be happy. Context provides the possibility, but we just don’t know and that simply concretes the realism that is peppered throughout the film.
Tucker is the source of this realism. He’s terrified of being a father, but he has no choice. He has five children and the only one he takes care of is Jackson and even then, he’s not the best father he can be, and he knows that. He tries to paper over the insecurities by attempting a romance with Annie but even Annie knows he only has one shot left at being a proper father and she doesn’t want to get in the way of that.
Byrne and Hawke have wonderful chemistry together. Byrne is a slightly neurotic and uncertain Annie and she plays the character well against Hawke’s deeply flawed and scared yet cocksure Tucker. To be honest, it almost feels like Tucker was written specifically for Hawke’s brand of swagger. I would love to see Byrne play a character that is surer of herself, though. Annie gets there in the end but spends much of the movie being hard on herself and insecure.
As for the script, I would have liked to have seen more. More wit. More laughs. Something. It was good but it needed some originality. Without it, the film is trite and feels flimsy against other book to movie adaptations.
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