Sydney Film Festival Review: Juliet, Naked (USA, 2018) Is The Rom-Com We Deserve

Relationships are hard, messy complicated things. Finding a balance between what you want and what your partner wants, whilst still retaining a sense of uniqueness feels impossible. Most mainstream Hollywood rom-coms would have us believe that it’s possible with their glossy happy endings. Juliet, Naked is not the rom-com we need but the one we deserve, as it prefers to be a little more realistic.

We meet Annie (Rose Byrne) in what feels like a one-sided relationship with her boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd). Duncan is a professor at the local college but his not-so-secret obsession is with once revered now in hiding musician singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke).
But when Annie and Duncan break up, a hilarious serendipitous set of circumstances sees Crowe come out of hiding and striking up a relationship with Annie. But relationships are really not quite that simple or clean.

Based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name, made with some minor adjustments to characters in the script, it stays fairly true to Hornby’s dry and self-deprecating view of its characters and themselves. Director Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother and a chunk of the tv series Girls) with some help from producer Judd Apatow steers this film in a very intimate way, keeping the focus on our awkward love triangle with Annie at its core.

Where this film gets to rise above is in its truthful depiction of how awkward we all are when it comes to dealing with other humans. Whether it’s a relationship, our family, our estranged children, our exes, our bosses, or our idols. And sometimes all we’re trying to do is fix our mistakes of the past, instead of trying to live in the present or aim for something in the future. Whether that’s obsessing over and living in a nostalgia fever dream, or trapping yourself in a cage of comfortableness, neither are healthy for our mental wellbeing or our souls.

And it wouldn’t be a Hornby adaptation if it didn’t romanticise music-geekdom, but interestingly it plays out both sides. There’s Crowe’s disillusioned ex-rockstar who has no love for it anymore due to it being all too emotionally painful. And Duncan’s obsessive fan who espouses the virtue of its importance to the listener, even if the creator can’t see it.

Rose Byrne is so earnest, endearing and likeable in this film that you kinda do wish she was in a proper Hollywood rom-com. But the beauty of her performance is seeing her play out situations that feel all too painfully familiar and normal. O’Dowd is proper hilarious, no surprises there, as the enormous desperate dork that just wants somebody to fanboy with him. And Hawke is just delightful as the reclusive artist trying to fix some of the mistakes of his past and make up for lost time.

If only we had more of these sorts of realistic representations onscreen, maybe we wouldn’t all feel so terrible about how much our lives are trainwrecks? Juliet, Naked is both a messy love-story but a charming and heartwarming tale of trying to get it right.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Juliet, Naked was screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival.
There will be an additional screening on Saturday 16 June at 8:15pm.
For tickets or more information visit the Sydney Film Festival website.