Annie Platt and Duncan Thomson are in a fairly happy, if placid, long-term domestic partnership. However, they’ve also reached the stage where endearing personality quirks have soured into irritants – chief amongst them is Duncan’s all-consuming obsession with musician Tucker Crowe, who disappeared from the music scene under mysterious circumstances years ago. When Tucker finally resurfaces, it changes Annie and Duncan’s lives in ways they never dreamed.
Annie (Rose Byrne) and Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) have been together for so long they don’t know where one begins and the other ends – and that includes the love of Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who Duncan expects Annie to worship as fervently as he does. Annie is game to play along year after year as she patiently supports Duncan’s constant updating of his Tucker-centric blog, until a fight finally makes her snap. The cause? An acoustic re-release of Tucker’s last album, Juliet, Naked, arrives on their doorstep one day, and Annie has the audacity to listen to it first. When Duncan finds out, all hell breaks loose on the home-front. The even greater transgression occurs when Annie decides the record is subpar and writes a review that attracts the attention of a surprising fan of her post. Will Annie and Duncan bounce back from betrayal, or will they find themselves permanently at odds?
Juliet, Naked’s plot is derived from Nick Hornsby’s novel by the same name and bears resemblance to his hit High Fidelity (both book and film), due to the “oblivious mate obsessed with music” theme. And, much like High Fidelity, the casting is perfection. Rose Byrne shines as the weary Annie – you can feel her quiet resignation in every shrug as she fights the gloom of realizing her lover is about to go off the rails. She’s also the glue that holds the film together as she bridges the worlds between Duncan and Tucker. It’s no surprise that Ethan Hawke makes a great grizzled and exasperated rock star – it’s almost a window into what Troy (Hawkes’ iconic Reality Bites character) might’ve morphed into as an adult. The comedic relief comes from the always delightful Chris O’Dowd, who plays Duncan’s annoying music geek persona to the hilt. You know that guy – the one who thinks he knows everything about an artist and will not hesitate to tell you about it? Chris deftly milks every nuance of this hobbyist-mansplaining stereotype to perfection, rightfully earning the majority of the laugh-out-loud moments. He is white male entitlement on whippets.
I was surprised to see this didn’t get a wider release, given its pedigree. In addition to the stellar, buzzworthy cast, the film is produced by Judd Apatow and the screenplay was co-written by Evgenia Peretz, whose dishy Vanity Fair articles always make waves. The sonic bonus is Nathan Larson (of the band Shudder to Think) who created the music for Tucker to croon, deftly fleshing out Crowe’s mythology. It’s a mix that seems like it should’ve seen some bigger box office numbers. But don’t let this relatively quiet release scare you away; it is a quality project.
The film is a delight to spend time with – it’s so easy to root for Annie that it almost doesn’t matter who she ends up with, as long as her life blossoms as she desperately wishes it to. That said, Juliet, Naked is not perfect – given the rom com trope, there are few surprises; but it’s a watchable and engaging addition to the genre. In these tumultuous times, it was a welcome respite to curl up in a dark movie theater for a few happy hours with these characters.
Juliet, Naked (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Duncan puts up a blog post about Tucker.
Take a Drink: every time Annie rolls her eyes at Duncan’s antics.
Take a Drink: every time the camera pans to Duncan’s over-the-top collection of Tucker Crowe memorabilia.
Do a Shot: if you want Annie to kick Duncan’s ass – his dismissive sexism definitely gets old.
Do a Shot: for Tucker’s swoon-worthy rendition of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.”
Do a Shot: if you were hoping for a lot more nudity than the title implies.
Do stick around for the end credits – it’s worth the wait to see Duncan attempt to get the last word.