3.5 stars (out of 5)
American Jesse Peretz directs this filming of Englishman Nick Hornby’s 2009 novel, complete with his sister Evgenia as one of the co-script-adaptors and Judd Apatow amongst the producers, and the result is one of the wryest, funniest films in quite a while, even if the subtlety of it all prevents too much laughter and, for some, the title might be off-putting (please note that it’s meant to resemble the re-release of The Beatles’ Let It Be as Let It Be… Naked, as in in its hidden original form and unadorned. And yes, there is no Juliet and no one gets naked onscreen).
Annie Platt (Rose Byrne) works at the family business somewhere around Broadstairs and Margate, and she’s in a not exactly happy long-term relationship with community college lecturer Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), who runs a blog all about the mysterious Tucker Crowe, a would-be indie-scene rocker from the early ‘90s who fell off the map completely after an underrated album called Juliet. O’Dowd is a little like Hornby’s hero in High Fidelity (filmed with John Cusack) or even himself in the memoir Fever Pitch (filmed in the UK with Colin Firth) in that he’s a trivia obsessive, but Chris plays it with an edge and we know that he’s living in the past and using Tucker as a barrier to, well, real life.
A series of circumstances leads to the delivery of a disc titled Juliet, Naked which turns out to be demos from the original album, and while Duncan loses his mind listening to this bitter Holy Grail, Annie starts a secret email conversation with the somewhat washed-up Tucker himself (ç actually singing the Jeff Buckley-ish songs), who lives in his ex’s garage in upstate New York (even if this was all filmed in England). Tucker has a nice relationship with his young son Jackson (Azhy Robertson) but his life is otherwise a mess of angry former partners and alienated children. Is this the reason why he hasn’t picked up a guitar in so many years? Or is it something more shameful?
Peretz is definitely an ‘actor’s director’ (his last pic My Idiot Brother featured lovely work from Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer and Steve Coogan), and his main cast here are all very fine, especially considering that none of them are playing noble people. But they’re human, just like all of Hornby’s characters, and it’s hard not to love them anyway, which is kind of the point.
And can Hawke sing? Well… no.