Directed by: Jesse Peretz
Premise: Annie (Rose Byrne) cohabitates with her long term boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) who is obsessed with the music album released by singer/songwriter Tucker Crowe twenty-five years ago. In a turn of events, Annie gets in touch with Tucker and they begin an email relationship.
What Works: Juliet, Naked is a smart mix of middle age drama and romantic comedy. The story centers upon Annie, played by Rose Byrne, a woman who has gotten trapped in her small British town. She was once in love with her boyfriend Duncan, played by Chris O’Dowd, but their relationship has gone stale. Byrne and O’Dowd convincingly play a couple who are well past the honeymoon phase. They don’t actively despise each other but their relationship has plateaued and Annie is especially restless. The two of them have omitted children from their lives but she now feels the pull of motherhood while annoyed by Duncan’s obsession with the music of Tucker Crowe, played by Ethan Hawke. Juliet, Naked is a middle age drama in which characters cope with the fact that their youth has slipped by. Annie wants children, Duncan obsesses over an album of his youth, and Tucker has failed to live up to his responsibilities to his children and their various mothers. This is also a story about art and life and where the two intersect but also where they depart. Tucker’s music meant something quite profound to Duncan but his obsession with the minutia of the album and its mythology have no bearing on what prompted Tucker to create it. It’s a smart dramatization of the way music and art can mean very different things to the creator and to the audience. Juliet, Naked also succeeds as a romantic comedy. The film is about one relationship coming together while another comes apart and a woman realizes her discontent and eventually her self-worth. That’s done organically in the film and Juliet, Naked provides much of what the romantic comedy audience looks for in their movies but without pandering. The filmmakers effectively mix the drama with the comedy, using one to offset the other, and come up with a story of characters who are complex and interesting.
What Doesn’t: The premise of Juliet, Naked rests on a flimsy conceit. It’s a bit unbelievable that Annie would stay with Duncan as long as she has given how unhappy she is at the start of the movie and accounting for the fact that the couple has nothing holding them together like marriage or children. The rest of the story is rather predictable. There are enough variables like Tucker’s complicated domestic life and the issues of fan devotion as well as a colorful setting to keep Juliet, Naked from becoming an exercise in formula. But this movie operates within a familiar romantic comedy framework.
DVD extras: Featurette.
Bottom Line: Juliet, Naked is smart, perceptive, and funny with characters who are complex and empathetic. This movie goes beyond what we typically expect from either a middle age drama or a romantic comedy.
Episode: #732 (January 6, 2019)