As the dark nights are drawing in (and my humour is as black as them), I suddenly find myself with a little more time on my hands of an evening, especially on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, now the Champions League has restarted and there are no teams worth watching competing in it this year (don’t message me!).
And so it is to the tellybox I turn for solace and companionship, and last night I ventured on to Netflix and watched a film called Juliet, Naked.
It’s not that sort of a film, in case you were wondering. I’d hardly announce it to the world if it were.
No, Juliet, Naked is the latest Nick Hornby book to be adapted into a film. Or rather, I think it’s the latest, there may have been another once made since, if I’m honest, I haven’t checked.
I’d read the book a few years ago, could remember thinking it was okay and could sort of remember the basic premise of the plot, but couldn’t recall any of the finer details or how the book ended.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about it: “Juliet, Naked is the story of Annie (the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan) and her unlikely transatlantic romance with once revered, now faded, singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who also happens to be the subject of Duncan’s musical obsession.“
Just to clear up the title: Crowe’s most famous release was a break-up album called Juliet, but shortly after its release twenty years earlier, he suddenly disappeared from the limelight, to where and to do what nobody quite knows. But in one little corner of the internet, there is a blog and a forum, run by Duncan; Duncan considers Juliet to be the greatest record ever made and is obsessed by Crowe, or more specifically with talking on line with other devotees about what might have happened to him.
And then one day, a CD arrives in the post, with the words Juliet, Naked marker-penned onto it, and an unsigned note explaining that the CD contains the demo versions of Juliet, which the sender thinks Duncan would probably enjoy hearing.
I’ll go no further for fear of spoilers.
The cast is pretty good: Rose Byrne as Annie, Ethan Hawke as the washed up Crowe, Chris O’Dowd is Duncan. We’re in safe hands here, you feel.
I’ve generally quite enjoyed the film adaptations of Hornby’s books: Fever Pitch would be great if it wasn’t about Arsenal; High Fidelity is, of course, wonderful; About a Boy stands the test of time if you leave it a couple of years in between viewing rather than catching it every time it auto-repeats on whichever of the ITV channels it’s most recently landed on; A Long Way Down was pretty good if rather over-looked.
Usually, they also have a pretty good soundtrack too, and since I found out that the film was directed by Jesse Peretz, who used to be the bass player in the Lemonheads, I was hopeful the same would be true of this movie.
Juliet, Naked does not have a great soundtrack. The problem is that much of the music included is tracks from either the Juliet album or the Juliet, Naked demos; imagine that High Fidelity‘s soundtrack was 99% comprised of Marie deSalle’s own compositions, and you’ll understand why when the film ended, I was not filled with a sudden urge to track down a copy of the soundtrack. Needless to say, were it real, I would not have been a regular visitor to Duncan’s website.
And what’s the film like? Well, it’s okay. It’s not earth-shatteringly brilliant; there are no real surprises. It’s like many rom-coms: a tad on the predictable side, a couple of good jokes, but it feels like it has to have a component – in this case, as with most other Hornby adaptations, a nerdy obsession with music – that the male half of a relationship can identify with/put up with for an hour and forty minutes to get two bums enticed onto cinema seats. 6.5 out of 10.
That said, it (almost concludes) with a moving musical moment (again, in the same way as so many Hornby adaptations do) when Crowe, who hasn’t performed live in twenty years, is cajoled into doing so, and performs a song which is a call-back to an earlier scene in the film where two of the cast are walking through the location named in the song, and reference to the song in question is made (at which point, you just now it’s going to feature later on in the film. I wrote about this phenomenon back here if you’re interested).
I like to think I’ve been fairly upbeat through all the tedium and horror that 2020 has thrown at us, but after hearing the song, I felt a real melancholy as I realised that right at that moment there wasn’t millions of people swarming like flies around the underground; that the modern equivalent of Terry and Julie weren’t meeting there every Friday night, and that they probably won’t be for a good while yet.
And so I reached for not the original version of the song – that would have just been rubbing salt into the wounds of Crowe’s interpretation – but instead to this version, performed by Ray Davies, with the help of The Crouch End Festival Chorus:
I mean, it’s not a patch on the original, but it made me feel a bit better.