Starring Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Jimmy O. Yang, Chris O’Dowd; directed by Jesse Peretz; 98 minutes; R for crude language.
When every other movie, even the rom-coms, seems to contain political subtext, it’s a relief to see a bagatelle such as “Juliet, Naked.”
Described as a “98-minute diversion” by producers, the romantic comedy is just that: a sweet-tart confection that, like lemon sorbet, cleanses a palate gone sour from too many cinematic servings of the heavy stuff.
“Juliet,” based on Nick Hornby’s 2009 novel, stars Rose Byrne as Annie, the curator of a history museum in a small English seaside town. Annie lives with boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd, funny as ever in his low-key way), a college film professor whose lectures compare “The Wire” and Greek tragedy.
But that pretentiousness pales compared with the seriousness with which Duncan takes his hobby. A fan website is devoted to Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), an American cult musician who, after releasing his seminal 1993 album “Juliet,” seemingly disappeared off the Earth.
When a bootleg CD surfaces featuring unplugged demo recordings from that album, Annie, who has had it up to her ears with Duncan’s fanboy-ism, posts a negative review of the CD. This leads to not only minor tensions with her live-in beau, but also to an email correspondence between Annie and Tucker, who, it seems, isn’t hiding out but simply living below the radar in his ex-wife’s garage in upstate New York.
Tucker happens to agree with Annie’s assessment of his music.
It’s a classic love triangle — with Tucker and Annie, as email pen pals, slowly realizing they might have feelings for each other, and with Duncan playing the jealous third wheel. Jealous, that is, of Tucker, not Annie.
Director Jesse Peretz, a former musician who turned to filmmaking, plays this familiar scenario’s comedy not in power chords, but in grace notes, finding lovely nuance in the smallest character interactions.
The film avoids the neat happily-ever-afters of so many stories of this ilk. Its brisk 98 minutes provide some bittersweet leave-takings, along with one particularly sad I-never-need-to-hear-from-you-again. Mostly, however, “Juliet, Naked” is about our capacity for hope. Without it, the film argues, why would anyone be so foolish as to try something new?