Juliet, Naked stars Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, and Chris O’Dowd in a charming dramedy about second chances and toxic fandom. Employing a number of rom-com tropes, this Nick Hornby adaptation may not reinvent the genre, but it presents some interesting characters and deep emotional themes that resonate long after the credits roll. Lionsgate brings the film to Blu-ray with a solid A/V presentation but only an EPK featurette for bonus features. Give it a Rent.
“I’m nobody’s mom.”
There is a funny scene early on in Jesse Peretz’s Juliet, Naked that caught me off guard. Media professor Duncan is teaching a class about the Shakespearean themes within American gang films. It’s the kind of scene in which a “cool” professor is trying to reach his students and I love it. Remember the 90’s, kids? He ends the lecture with “These characters, they’re already bound to their fate.” And in that moment I had this aching fear that this film spoiled itself right there. Juliet, Naked confidently bills itself as reinventing the romantic comedy. As a viewer of many rom-coms, I’m here to say this rarely happens. The tried and true genre formulas are a welcoming blanket to those needing some romance (and reassuring comedy) to weather whatever storm they’re facing at the moment. In this story, it’s this reliable yet regretful comfort that is the undoing of our character’s lives.
Annie (Rose Byrne) spends her days toiling away at her father’s museum in the tiny English town of Sandcliffe. She inherited the work after a stint in art school and at the beginning of her relationship with media studies professor Duncan (Chris O’Dowd). Spending his free time obsessing over a 90’s alt-rocker named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), Duncan runs a blog and expenses every ounce of his energies towards celebrating the artist. When an unreleased version of Tucker’s album “Juliet” arrives on Annie’s doorstep she immediately opens it and tries to understand Duncan’s unhealthy obsession. Detested by what she hears, Annie writes a scathing review of the album on his fansite. As expected he is furious with Annie’s take and can’t understand why she doesn’t agree with him. Cruising Duncan’s blog is the actual Tucker Crowe. He reads Annie’s blistering take on “Juliet, Naked” and reaches out to her. The two start exchanging lengthy emails and, before Annie knows it, he is heading to the UK and wants to meet up.
Juliet, Naked is more of an emotional journey than a zany rom-com. The email relationship between Annie and Tucker raises the stakes but once the introductions are over we’re into some deep emotional territory about life’s second chances and wasted years. This connection plays out with a heightened anticipation for an affair, but things take a turn once the two lost souls allow themselves to be vulnerable. Tucker regrets being an absentee father to his many children and, for Annie, it’s coming to terms with her empty relationship with Duncan which she describes as “faint conditional affection”. In this, we’re treated to two people who need guidance in their emotional lives rather than romantic love. Living in the garage behind his ex-wife’s house with his son, Tucker coasts by on royalty checks. Add in his numerous children (and their mothers) and this rock god isn’t what he seems. Annie maintains the image of a caring girlfriend but secretly harbors thoughts of children and breaking up with Duncan. As the sad details of their lives are intertwined Juliet, Naked falls into familiar territory but thankfully the great performances keep it afloat.
Ethan Hawke is wonderful as the deadbeat rocker dad. With faded band shirts, an old cabriolet convertible, and a softie at heart with a deep emotional awareness of his parenting skills, he’s the dad-hipster dads want to be. Rose Byrne’s performance as Annie is just spot on. She absolutely nails the “bored woman listening to her partner drone on about boring nonsense” face. (Frankly, I see it quite often myself.) Her charming sensibilities don’t obstruct her commitment to selling Annie’s disdain for her long-term boyfriend nor her complicated feelings for Tucker. Her delivery of “Do you know what I would do for a couple of angry kids?” clearly announces the emotional stakes of this film. Chris O’Dowd absolutely nails the toxic fanboy character. From the breaking point of Duncan’s relationship with “I don’t want to spend time with people who don’t get it I wanna spend time with people who do” to the moment he gets a chance to meet his hero, O’Dowd imbues the character with just enough depth to understand his choices, but not enough to give him adequate weight in this story. He’s basically the guy at a Q&A who says, “It’s more of a comment than a question, really”.
Fans of Nick Hornby adaptations High Fidelity and About a Boy will certainly see similar themes present in Juliet, Naked. Record collecting, fandom, and the disjointed relationship between a father and son to name a few. Audiences familiar with those films will certainly feel at home here. I had a wonderful time watching the film and seeing that no matter how many years of our lives we’ve wasted we’re never bound to our fate.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Lionsgate brings Juliet, Naked to Blu-ray on a Region A BD50 disc housed in an Eco keepcase with a Digital Copy insert. The disc loads with a Lionsgate logo followed by 4 trailers before landing on the Main Menu screen. Clips from the film play behind the navigation bar with typical options available.
With a MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1 Juliet, Naked looks naturalistic and bright on Blu-ray. The transfer presents strong primaries and even flesh tones. Detail is strong but a softness prevails for some indoor scenes with natural light. A slight loss in detail is evident during most scenes in Annie and Duncan’s house. This shift in quality isn’t terribly evident and won’t detract from your experience with the feature. Outdoor scenes are bright and vibrant with bold colors and excellent contrast levels. Black levels are stable throughout the feature.
Juliet, Naked arrives with a lossless DTS HD-MA 5.1 audio track that is clear with direct and well-defined dialogue. The presence of the aforementioned music in the sound mix is pronounced and, at times, overpowers the balance within dialogue-heavy scenes. The original tracks recorded by Ethan Hawke translate nicely to the film’s tone and add a layer of authenticity to the alt-rock vibe. Surround channels handle atmospherics and music confidently while keeping the 5.1 balanced nicely throughout the feature.
Juliet, Naked convincingly masquerades as a love-triangle rom-com involving a lazy boyfriend and a lost 90’s rocker dad. Sounds intriguing, but at its heart, the film deals with deeper levels of romantic love, second chances, and the redemptive power of honesty. With a stellar cast the film navigates the emotional journeys of our characters with ease and leaves a lasting impression well after the credits roll. The Lionsgate Blu-ray provides a solid A/V presentation of the Nick Hornby adaptation but fails a bit on the Special Features front offering only an EPK featurette. Give it a Rent.