Rose Byrne’s performance in ‘Juliet, Naked’ irresistible

By Chic DiCiccio

Photo courtesy of Apatow Productions
Ethan Hawke (left), Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd in “Juliet, Naked.”

The romantic comedy is on life support. The last one that was both critically and financially successful was “Trainwreck,” which isn’t exactly in the same vein as the Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts hits of the 1990s.

It’s highly unlikely that “Juliet, Naked” beats Tom Cruise, Marky Mark or a giant shark in ticket sales. Lionsgate couldn’t have picked a worse time to release a movie that made some noise at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has several things going for it, most notably its source material and an impeccable cast.

If “Juliet, Naked” seems eerily similar to “High Fidelity,” that’s because it is based on a Nick Hornby novel. Instead of making the self-obsessed, oblivious boyfriend the star of the show, “Juliet, Naked” hones in on the ignored girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne). The aforementioned boyfriend, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), runs a website devoted to the true love of his life, 90s indie rock star Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke).

Crowe released one album, titled “Juliet,” then mysteriously disappeared. Duncan and a bevy of online nerds have since spent their time inventing theories and stories as to why it happened. When an unreleased album of Tucker’s demos shows up in the mail (aptly titled “Juliet, Naked”), it sets off a chain of events that leads to Tucker actually contacting Annie.

The suspect moments of “Juliet, Naked” mostly defy how these characters are built. For one, it’s tough to believe that someone as intelligent and headstrong as Annie would stay with a clown like Duncan for 15 years. The excellent cast helps make those issues seem much smaller than they are.

The list of screenwriters is nearly as impressive as the cast. Oscar nominees Tamara Jenkins, Phil Alden Robinson and Jim Taylor (a winner for “Sideways) all are attached to the script along with director Jesse Peretz’s sister, Evgenia Peretz. This may be one of the reasons for the scattershot feel of “Juliet, Naked” and in hindsight, there are clearly moments that could be attributed to each writer based on their past work.

Movies like this depend on the casting department much more heavily than most and they’ve definitely delivered. O’Dowd does a great job as an ignorant buffoon and he has one fantastic moment when explaining how art may mean more to those that appreciate it than the artist that made it. O’Dowd’s Duncan doesn’t understand much, but his five minutes of clarity is a perfect moment right out of Nick Hornby’s playbook.

Hawke is as good as he’s ever been. His past roles, appearance and manner of speech make him more of a believable washed up 90s rocker than real life ones. It’s a fantastically written role of a guy that knows he can’t heal old wounds and instead simply lives each day trying to make his current relationships better. Does everyone wonder how Rose Byrne isn’t a massive movie star? Every single movie or TV show she appears in is elevated by her appearance. “Juliet, Naked” is her finest performance to date,  and her charm and screen presence is flat out irresistible. Maybe it’s the elegance of her accent, but she even sounds lovely when heavily doling out sarcasm and insults.

“Juliet, Naked” is an adorable romcom that showcases Byrne and Hawke’s likability. There’s little doubt that it will be a blip on the summer movie radar, but there are far worse movies to see on a random Friday night. It’s a safe bet that many people will watch this at home in a few months and wonder “Why haven’t I seen this yet?”