Sundance 2018: Juliet, Naked, by David Bax
There’s something familiar about Jesse Peretz’s Juliet, Naked: Everything. From the tired music made by one character to the Web 1.0 fansite made by another to the plot itself, we’ve seen it all before.
Annie (Rose Byrne) is the curator of the local history museum in the seaside English village where she’s lived her entire life. The last fifteen years of that life have been spent with boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), a local college professor and devoted fan of an early 90s American singer/songwriter named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who’s been reclusive since his mid-career meltdown 25 years ago. After a tiff with Duncan, Annie posts some scathing words on his Crowe-obsessed website, which happens to get the attention of Crowe himself, who emails her. The two start an ongoing correspondence and, just when you think we’re on the road to a romantic dilemma for Annie, Duncan goes and cheats on her, making things all too easy.
Juliet, Naked‘s best joke is that the music Crowe made in his career, which has meant so much to Duncan, is not particularly inspiring. It sounds like mid-rate Soul Asylum (or just Soul Asylum, depending on your tastes). Clearly, though, more effort was put into making these tunes than in giving Crowe a coherent backstory. We spend a lot of time learning about his multiple children with multiple women (almost everyone in both camps hates him with good reason) but no explanation is made as to how exactly a guy who spends plenty of time in public in at least two countries and emails a stranger out of the blue to talk about his career is supposed to be a recluse.
It’s sort of pathetic, then, for Duncan to be such a fan. But at least he’s supposed to be pathetic. And I mean he really is. The screenwriters–four of them, adapting Nick Hornby’s novel–lay it on thick with this dolt. He’s not even a pseudo-intellectual. He’s just a guy who thinks it makes him interesting to teach a course on The Wire and compare it to Antigone like he’s writing episode recaps for a pop culture site. He’s probably the type of person who would have found “vulgar auteurism” to be a novel and profound concept a few years back.
Peretz and company go so far to make Duncan unappealing that it backfires. Instead of rooting for Annie to get out of there already and find love with Tucker (who’s not even presented as a better option, just an option), we start to wonder what the hell is wrong with her that she stuck with him for so long in the first place. Juliet, Naked is aiming to be a coming-of-middle-age movie but, really, it seems to be too little, too late. These people need to just grow up already.