Are you or have you ever been an obsessive music fan? Have you ever dived down deep into an ocean of a particular artist's musical history and eagerly wetted your ears with every last song, half-song, quarter song and brief snippet of high or sometimes even very low, low quality, barely intelligible audio both officially and unofficially available? Have you ever tracked down, with a bloodhound's determination, every book about that artist and every book in which that artist is even only briefly mentioned on page two-hundred and something and then only for a sentence or two that does nothing other than merely confirm to you something you had already had confirmed to you a hundred times before? Have you ever compulsively visited countless websites committed to that same artist's work where other, even more intensely obsessive fans than you have documented and analyzed every last lyric, note, hiccup or cough crafted ever-so-carefully by that same artist, to such an extent that you feel so close to that artist that they are practically a part of you? Well, then, do I have the film for you.
"Juliet, Naked" is a film about a very unique love triangle. The three points of that triangle are: Duncan (Chris O'Dowd), an obsessive fan of an obscure and no longer active singer-songwriter named, Tucker Crowe; Annie (Rose Byrne), Duncan's long suffering girlfriend who feels like she's in competition with Crowe for her boyfriend's attention and is losing; and the object of obsession himself, Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), an easygoing dude, who long ago tossed away his music career, and who now lives in his ex-wife's garage trying to resemble a reasonable facsimile of a father for their son, Jackson (Azhy Robertson).
Based on a novel by Nick Hornby, this, mostly, light and funny, pleasant breeze of a film is a delight from start to finish.
What's mostly on the mind of the writer is the way in which these characters have chosen to lead their lives. Rose has been, and continues to be, way too cautious and, as a result, is suffering from emotional and psychological paralysis. Tucker has been way too reckless and, as a result, is the eye of a rapidly revolving hurricane of relationships that will soon swirl and crash around him with hilarious results. And in the middle, is Duncan who spends way too much of his time focusing on the emotional content of Crowe's songs and very little time focusing on the emotional content contained in the heart of his neglected girlfriend, Annie.
Rose Byrne, as Annie, is plain stuck. She's in a relationship with two men - one who is physically present, but not emotionally, and another who is emotionally present but not physically. Though she is smart and charming and attractive, she is sort of like an airplane waiting at the edge of a runway for permission to take off. Permission that never seems to come and permission she probably doesn't need after all.
Convincing as a woman who fulfills all of the requirements that her outer life demands without actually fulfilling any of the requirements that her inner life does, Byrne is all apologies and accomodations. She is a Rube Goldberg contraption made flesh - balls rolling, dominoes falling, ramps see sawing one way, then another, but, without any greater purpose other than to keep itself going, one day after another, for enjoyment of others.
As the obsessive fan, who runs a comprehensive website about everything and anything Crowe, frequently chats with other Crowe obsessives on-line and has a well maintained and more than slightly creepy shrine to the man in the basement of his and Annie's home, O'Dowd is just goofy enough to trigger the necessary laughs without being so goofy that he becomes a one note joke.
The film pays real careful attention to Duncan's emotional connection to Crowe and his songs. Sure, the film, and I assume the book, plays his obsessing for laughs, but, it also respects it, too. That is no more clear then in a pivotal scene, somewhere in the middle moving towards the end of the film, where Duncan and Crowe come face to face, sharing a dinner table with neglected girlfriend and no longer neglected son. Obsessive fan collides with the object of his obsession and the results, though predictably awkward, cringe worthy and painfully funny, also reveal each character's sensitive sore spots. The scene sticks its' landing and then some. It's wonderfully played out.
Overall, O'Dowd manages to create a memorable human being in Duncan who is, ultimately, deeply flawed, but, nonetheless, understandable and sympathetic. He sees so much in others who are far away and so little in those who are close by. He is so intensely focused on his obsession for the words and music of Tucker Crowe that he has no more energy left for his afterthought of a girlfriend. If his life could be summed up in an album's worth of tracks, the first twelve songs would be about Crowe and a thirteenth, hidden track, would be about Annie.
And Hawke? He plays casual, broken and messed up with an ease that is always charming and affecting. He does a fine job of slipping into the skin of a man who has just recently caught up to his responsibilities and is making a genuine, though clumsy, attempt to unscrew up as much of his screwed up life as he can. He's like someone walking through the rubble of a neighbourhood recently devastated by an 9.0 earthquake with all the concern of a man browsing for swim trunks at a local department store.
The direction is unobtrusive and workmanlike. The pace is steady and never lags.
A real surprise. Catch it if you can.