Film review: Music movie Juliet, Naked doesn't hit many bum notes

Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne and Chris O'Dowd in Juliet, Naked
Damon Smith

BASED on a novel by Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked is a sweet, reserved romantic comedy set in a sleepy English coastal town, which revels in the power of music to anchor our emotions to a specific person or time.

It could be a gut-wrenching ballad which perfectly encapsulates the anguish of a relationship break-up, a cheesy dancefloor anthem that conjures embarrassed memories of a boozy wedding or summer holiday, or the favourite track of a dearly departed loved one that will be forever "their song".

Music belongs to the listener, resonating in hearts and minds on a deeper level than the performer ever intended.

As one character in Jesse Peretz's film tells his self-deprecating musical idol, who openly rubbishes the importance of his work: "Art isn't for the artist, no more than water is for the plumber."

Juliet, Naked is powered by an appealingly scruffy performance from Ethan Hawke as the reclusive singer-songwriter, who inspires this heartfelt outburst.

He reeks of regret in gently paced scenes of bad parenting and sparks pleasing on-screen chemistry with Rose Byrne as the dissatisfied thirty-something, who forges an unexpected bond with her boyfriend's musical idol.

It's a preposterous set-up for a love triangle that reaches a crescendo of implausibility when Hawke performs an impromptu rendition of The Kinks' Waterloo Sunset.

Annie Platt (Byrne) becomes curator of Sandcliff Seaside Museum following her father's passing.

Her lecturer boyfriend Duncan (Chris O'Dowd) runs a website called Can You Hear Me?, which is devoted to American singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Hawke), who walked out of a gig 30 years ago at The Pit Club in Minneapolis and hasn't been seen since.

Obsession teeters into hysteria when Duncan receives a CD of an early version of Crowe's landmark album Juliet.

"It's boring versions of songs you've heard millions of times before," grimaces Annie.

Fractures in the relationship deepen after Duncan acts on his primal attraction to fellow lecturer Gina (Denise Gough).

In the midst of this emotional upheaval, Annie initiates an animated email conversation with the real Tucker Crowe, who is living in the garage of an old flame (Eleanor Matsuura) so he can take care of their son Jackson (Azhy Robertson).

Fate conspires to bring Tucker to London with his boy and sparks of attraction lift the gloom over Annie's predictable day-to-day existence.

Juliet, Naked is unlikely to become a defining cinematic soundtrack to anyone's life but Peretz's film doesn't hit many bum notes en route to a predictable resolution.

Byrne and Hawke are an attractive pairing and O'Dowd is exasperating comic relief as a fan boy, who ruefully acknowledges you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

That reminds me of a Joni Mitchell song...

JULIET, NAKED (15, 98 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O'Dowd, Lily Brazier, Denise Gough, Azhy Robertson, Eleanor Matsuura. Director: Jesse Peretz

RATING: 6/10

Released: November 2 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

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