There's a pretty great fake-out early in Jesse Peretz’s adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel Juliet, Naked. We meet the usual regressively boyish Hornby protagonist Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), assuming we'll watch him fumble through a romance, searching out the perfect while never appreciating the good. But no. The film actually belongs to Duncan’s partner, Annie (Rose Byrne), and I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that. It's as though I've had my High Fidelity fantasy delivered lo so many years later: Show me this emotional idiot’s relationship from the woman’s perspective.
Even better, Annie winds up with someone else. Duncan is a mega-fan of Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), a reclusive '90s musician who, through circumstance and coincidence, meets and begins a secret internet friendship with Annie, just as Duncan begins cheating with a new movement teacher at his university. Peretz could have given each potential pairing equal time in the story, but he sticks with the most evocative of the two; Juliet, Naked has its charms, and they are named Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke.
Byrne’s comic timing has been honed over a series of films, including The Meddler, Spy and both Neighbors movies, and she’s quickly becoming the “everywoman” of cinema. Her characters are charming but full of faults, and easy to frustrate without seeming like they have a stick up their asses. Here, she's equally matched by Hawke’s rendition of an aging rocker who checked out of life. Sweet and eager, but dumb, Tucker can be summed up by the peculiar gait Hawke created for the character: a clumsy shuffle, like he's moving in every direction simultaneously, unsure which is the right way. Together, they make an unlikely but butterflies-in-the-stomach match for romance.