Amy Kellestine Reviews “Juliet, Naked”
Don’t be misled by the title of “Juliet, Naked”. There are no characters named Juliet and no nudity. Rather, the movie’s title is that of a new music single that serves as an unexpected plot point in a delightful romantic comedy. Based on the 2009 novel by Nick Hornby, who also brought us “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy”, the movie showcases an unlikely love triangle. It also offers thoughtful commentary on how we relate to pop culture icons, and how it’s never too late to change.
Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd) is an insufferable film professor at a local college who spends all of his spare time obsessing about Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), a cult rocker from the 90’s who mysteriously disappeared at the height of his career. His partner is Annie (Rose Byrne), a sweet and patient cultural anthropologist who is getting fed up with his Tucker-fetish and general condescending manner.
Since Duncan manages an online forum for fans of Tucker, an advance copy of Tucker’s newest single (“Juliet, Naked”) arrives for him in the mail. Desperate for Duncan’s attention and hoping to make space between the man and the idol, Annie posts a scathing review of the song on the forum. But Duncan isn’t the only one who takes notice. Annie gets an email from Tucker himself—who, far from taking offense, tells her “Bingo. You nailed it.” This leads to a long-distance conversation between Annie and Tucker about the lives they’ve lived, the chances they’ve taken (or not), and the regrets they have. Things get more interesting when Duncan announces he’s having an affair, he and Annie split up, and family matters bring Tucker to England.
Though O’Dowd, Byrne, and Hawke all carry their roles well, it’s Azhy Robertson and Ayoola Smart, playing Tucker’s son Jackson and daughter Lizzie, who really steal the show as Tucker figures out what kind of father he can be.
“Juliet, Naked” skillfully explores the landscape of fandom and what we project onto those we idolize. Duncan is an insufferable superfan of Tucker Crowe—devoting a whole room in his and Annie’s flat to the fallen star. Duncan’s need for Tucker to be a bigger and better version of himself culminates in frustration and disappointment after he meets Tucker in person with Annie. As Duncan insists on Tucker’s brilliance, Tucker keeps offering Duncan a reality check he doesn’t want and can’t accept. It got me thinking about what society expects from its stars and how I sometimes unwittingly associate fame with superiority.
I also appreciated how the film dealt with Tucker’s poor past choices and his commitment to do better going forward. Having fathered five kids from four different mothers during his heyday, it would have been easy to portray him as a deadbeat burnout dad. However, we see the long-term consequences of Tucker’s actions, and his concerted effort to make things right. He is a stay-at-home dad to Jackson, flies across the Atlantic to support Lizzie’s transition to motherhood, and even reaches out to an estranged daughter only to face the ultimate rejection. Tucker’s anguish over the state of his relationships with his children is palpable, and yet he continues to take risks for connection and does the next right thing.
“Juliet, Naked” is the best kind of rom-com. It doesn’t go over the top with unrealistic fairy tale romance. It brings humor based on the characters’ wit and the awkward situations in which they find themselves. And you don’t just root for the protagonists; by the end of the film, you feel you’re friends with them.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.