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Juliet, Naked

2018-11-02 07:49
 
Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke in the movie Juliet, Na

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

Annie Platt and Duncan Thomson are a couple with a fairly comfortable, if unexciting relationship, living in a small coastal town in England but if there is one thing that constantly places a strain on their relationship, it’s Duncan’s obsession with the life and music of Tucker Crowe, an American indie-rocker who, two decades ago and at the peak of his fame, suddenly disappeared from the world stage. When a raw and uncut (or “naked”) version of Crowe’s masterpiece, Juliet, is sent to Duncan and Annie opens it first, a series of events unfolds that brings the legendary rocker into the lives of this ordinary couple in some very unexpected ways. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

There has been a great problem with Nick Hornby’s novels since the release of High Fidelity in 1995 and it’s one that has extended to the films based on his work too: High Fidelity, his first novel and second book (the autobiographical Fever Pitch came first), was so great that however enjoyable all of his subsequent novels turned out to be – and most were very enjoyable, indeed – couldn’t help but pale in comparison. Even the pretty great About a Boy just couldn’t quite measure up. 

This was certainly true of the big-screen adaptations of his novels too, but even worse. High Fidelity remains one of my all-time favourite films and for good reason: it’s an absolutely bloody fantastic insight into the modern male with endlessly quotable dialogue, unforgettable characters, career-best performances for most of its cast and a killers soundtrack. Once again, though, only About a Boy comes remotely close to capturing the magic of Stephen Frears’ modern-classic, with all other adaptations of his work faring significantly worse than even their own source novels did against their predecessors. 

It’s with no small amount of pleasure, then, that I can report that not only is Juliet, Naked the most purely enjoyable mainstream rom-com to come along in ages but it’s easily the best Hornby adaptation since About a Boy and is, believe it or not, a solid improvement over the novel. It’s been a very long time since I read the novel (it came out in 2009 and I read it soon after its release) but, if I recall correctly at all, the film is fairly faithful to it but with a few crucial differences that make it far easier to embrace.

Like the novel, the plot of the film is clearly patently ridiculous with plot contrivance building on plot contrivance, having little of the naturalistic realness of High Fidelity and About a Boy. It’s the sort of plot that gives ammunition to those cynical souls who hate the entire romantic comedy genre. It’s also really quite besides the point.

Director Jesse Peretz (former bassist of the band the Lemonheads and established director of a bunch of OK films but some really fantastic television) and screenwriters, Evgenia Peretz (Jesse’s sister and frequent collaborator), Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins, have crafted a film of such warmth, wit and character that it easily overcomes almost all of the shortcomings in its plot and just as easily earns its undeniable sentimental streak.

In many ways, in fact, Juliet, Naked feels like the best film that Richard Curtis never made. In films such as Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and, most especially, the gorgeous and criminally overlooked About Time, Curtis has been able to get away with sometimes ridiculous plotlines and some pretty unabashed sentimentality by filling his films with wonderful characters (portrayed, almost always, by fantastic actors), tons of heart, razor-sharp dialogue and plenty of well-placed classic tunes – and all of this applies just as easily to Juliet, Naked

That Peretz (Jesse rather than Evgenia, in this case) was a working musician in a fairly successful band and has directed a good dozen music videos for some pretty names in music, might be just as crucial to the film’s success as his previous directorial work in film and television. It’s not just that the film features a good number of really good songs, both original and covers (this is the second film this year to make beautiful use of the Kinks’ stone-cold classic, Waterloo Sunset) but that for a film that’s so much about both being a musician and being a music fan and how those two things can often offer very, very different perspectives on any piece of music, Peretz brings a real authenticity to the proceedings that only further obscures the contrivances of the plot.

The big difference between the film and the novel, though, (and, yes, bigger even than the fact that one medium has the distinct advantage of being able to actually produce music) is that the three lead actors (and some really fun support from the likes of Lily Brazier, Azhy Robertson – another really good child-actor – and a scene-stealing Phil Davis) bring so much to their roles that they very easily turn characters who were actually fairly unlikable on the page into people that you really can’t help but root for.

Ethan Hawke as an ageing rock star is a role he was pretty much born to play, while Chris O’Dowd and Rose Byrne prove themselves, once again, to be two of our most gifted comic-actors, who can also bring some dramatic weight when needed. The script is already more than funny enough but it’s the actors who really make the film sing.

In short, Juliet, Naked may have a ludicrous plot and it hardly reinvents the wheel on any level but if you’re looking for something to charm your socks off, while pulling at your heartstrings and tickling your funny bone at the same time, you could hardly do much better than this gem of a film.



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