Boiled down, Jesse Peretz‘s Juliet, Naked (Lionsgate, 8.17) is a half-charming, half-thorny romantic triangle type deal. It’s a bit curious and lumpy at times, but essentially likable.
Set in an English coastal town and based on Nick Hornsby’s 2009 same-titled novel, it’s about Annie (Rose Byrne) gradually disengaging from her dorky boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) and his fanboy obsession with a disappeared, Glenn Gould-like cult-rocker named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), and gradually getting to know and then romancing Crowe himself, whom she meets online and then in the flesh when he travels to England to visit a long-lost daughter.
The film is basically about Annie recoiling from the realm of obsessive cult-rock fandom as she slowly engages with a flawed, aging, somewhat failed rock musician who’s already saddled with tons of baggage. On the other hand Annie is merging with an actual, real-deal artist (however failed or past-his-prime) instead of some website-running geek.
The problem for me is that neither Hawke nor O’Dowd are especially appealing in a romantic context, and yet Annie is obviously a looker and a catch. Right away you’re wondering how and why she got involved with the loser-ish O’Dowd in the first place, and then you’re wondering what she sees in Hawke, whose character, an admitted alcoholic, suffers a heart attack when he arrives in London and whose life is a mess, and who’s rather gray and creased and pudge-boddy with a wardrobe that’s basically “a blind man visits Goodwill”. (Hawke is 47 but could easily pass for older in this film.)
I was feeling a certain distance from the general story and situation, but then Act Three kicked in and Hawke sang “Waterloo Sunset” in front of a small gathering in Annie’s home town, and I was won over. Things eventually work out as you expect them to. The ending is actually pretty great, come to think.