REVIEW | "Juliet, Naked" at Sundance 2018

Romantic comedies have never been done so well in this Nick Hornby novel adaptation

Alex Bailey

The questions of what it means to be lonely and just how we fall in love are big, but nevertheless important.

However, these aren't usually the questions we expect romantic comedies to try and solve for us. Juliet, Naked is not just another run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. While it is very funny and quite sincere, it also manages to narrate a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, and how being human can complicate our understanding of love and relationships.

Based on the Nick Hornby novel (who is known for his previous works About a Boy and Fever Pitch), the film begins by introducing us to Annie (Rose Byrne), who has been stuck in a relationship with her non-committal boyfriend Duncan (a sensational Chris O'Dowd) for a few too many years. Annie is interested in discussing the possibilities of having children. Duncan is only interested in obsessing the obscure 1980s rock musician, Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). The problem only intensifies when Duncan receives an unreleased, acoustic album of Tucker's and dives into a whole new level of his fandom. However, through this album, Annie connects with Tucker himself, and realizes his life is not anything like the conspiracies of his wacko fans. They actually might have more in common than she realized.

Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne and Chris O'Dowd attend Juliet, Naked by Jesse Peretz, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.Ian Tilghman

Lovey-dovey stories with musicians are not news, but this one goes outside of the mold. First off, you'll only have to hear Ethan Hawke sing once, and it will be a lovely little diddy by the Kinks so you can sing along, too. Secondly, it breaks the conventional mold in the same My Best Friend's Wedding did years ago. While it's difficult for it to stray away from a romantic comedy label, it's not necessarily a romance for any of our protagonists. Instead, it focuses more on learning once again how to love others who love you, and how to love yourself.

Tamara Jenkins, whose solo return to Sundance came in the way of Private Life, lends her hilarious chops to the script-writing team to turn this into a true treat. The jokes are actually fun, especially those of Chris O'Dowd who plays the clueless fan boy role to a T. The situational comedy stands with one foot in the realm of possibility and the other just slightly outside, making for each punchline to really entice the audience. Those at Sundance were all surprised at how delightful the story was to follow.

Director Jesse Peretz shapes these characters into curious, fascinating things with his working of Hornby's characters. Although the original storyline was curated by male creators, the Annie character is anything but a male-gaze fantasy. She is full and thriving in her interests and her life, whether that involves falling in love or curating a museum show or having a baby...all on her own. This further helps the film to defy its genre-limiting boundaries.

Juliet, Naked will make a splash when it hits box offices, delighting the usual love story craving crowd. However, it will also act as a necessary platform for big name studios trying to manufacture work in the same genre, showing them that sometimes a little indie production can get it right so much better.

Find out more about Juliet, Naked here.

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