Nick Hornby writes books like they’re made for the screen, his novels plotted with Rom-Com archetypes. They are about the ideals of love. Hornby’s characters operate in a world of coincidences and high-strung passions. They are funny as hell. His books make for easy reading, the kind of good populist work that gets widely circulated for all its accessibility. Juliet, Naked once again shows just how seamlessly his writing transfers to screen.
At his best, Hornby writes about people taken by specific fandoms. The excellent film translation of High Fidelity (2000) found a record shop employee who ranked women just like his records and Juliet, Naked plays like a B-Side to that film. This breezy comedy shows the female perspective. What is it like to be in a relationship with someone more attached to his favorite artist than his partner? What happens when she intervenes on his personal fan blog and leaves the guy after being contacted by his hero?
Any of us who have spent too much time on the internet have a bit of this. We’ve sunk time into the wrong places. We’ve created an endless stream of information, a personal dossier of everything we like and why, we’ve written critical essays on Rom-Coms. These things are broadly relatable. Is it this man’s greatest fear, his girlfriend leaving him for the very man he idolizes, the embodiment of all the things he wishes to be and cannot, and so worships in another person?
The cast is funny. Chris O’Dowd plays our blogger with a fixation on a ‘90s Indie-Rock icon, a genuine Ethan Hawke. When Hawke sings, he gracefully belongs to this exact era of music, nicely casted. This is essentially the one-way romance of the picture. O’Dowd has idolized Hawke’s character, even many years behind his last significant releases, and is a bit put off when his girlfriend, a fantastic Rose Byrne, intercepts a package with a new demo from his most popular record and dismisses it as an unrefined early version. She says so on his blog. This honesty among a storm of puerile fandom strikes a chord with the aging rocker and they begin a romantic friendship.
Rose Byrne acts sweetly here, as a woman in second place to a hobby, who was never given the opportunity to be a mother like she always wanted. She gets to experience small maternal moments with one of Hawke’s many children. This creates a great tension with her ex, who is filled with incredulous disbelief upon finding out she’s dropped him for his own favorite person. It is not even that he wants her, but that he wants her situation; the attentions of his lifelong hero.
There is no deeper context here. It is a slight story, one of Hornby’s lighter novels and does exactly what it advertises. It thrives in the funny discomfort of its relationships. There’s quite a lot to like here, especially within this love triangle gone askew. As an inverse-High Fidelity, the film strikes high marks as a quaint and lightly developed comedy with very good performances.