A Nick Hornby adaptation takes a shot at toxic fandom

Film Review | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Juliet, Naked
RPL Film Theatre

Nov. 23–25

It seems as if Nick Hornby’s best days as a writer are behind him. He hasn’t published anything since 2014’s Funny Girl and even that was a questionable endeavor. I dropped it midway through. Juliet, Naked was his last great novel, a rebuke of the men-children that populated his previous books (most notably High Fidelity and About a Boy) by focusing on the women who have to put up with their fixations and quirks.

Juliet, Naked as a movie works on the strength of the original material and excellent casting. Not that director Jesse Peretz (Girls) does a bad job — he just doesn’t bring anything fresh to the table and all we’re left with is a Cliff Notes of a superior piece of fiction. I loathe myself for saying this, but, yeah, the book is better.

The story revolves around Annie (Rose Byrne), the curator of a small-town museum who feels as if life is passing her by. Her longtime partner, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), is a college professor more concerned with his record collection than his girlfriend’s happiness. Duncan is particularly obsessed with obscure singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe, a man who was poised to become the next Bob Dylan until he walked away from everything and was never heard of again.

The emergence of an obscure Crowe recording causes a rift between Duncan and Annie: he believes it’s a masterpiece, she thinks it’s bad and bashes it in an online review. And that’s when Tucker (Ethan Hawke, two days removed from showering) rears his head. And he sides with Annie.

Juliet, Naked works on two levels. On the surface, it’s a rebuke of hardcore fans who think they own the piece of pop-culture they’re obsessed with, a sense of entitlement that is often toxic. We assign meaning to things — particularly music — that wasn’t there in the first place and isn’t compatible with other’s experiences of the same work.

At a deeper level, the story speaks of people’s inability to live up to others’ expectations, whether as a parent, a lover or as a music icon. And how once you own up to that fact, life becomes much more tolerable.