It wasn’t that long ago when Lisa Loeb scurried across her loft bemoaning her Gen X lover’s dickheadery and her general unwillingness to “Stay” in the relationship. That was only 24 years ago. Scratch that. Jesus Howard Christ, that was a long time ago. Loeb’s song, the most popular track from the soundtrack to Generation X rom-com Reality Bites, was at one time, an “important” song for those of us still trying to find the correct amount of semi-grungy cool.
In that once-called “film of a generation,” Ethan Hawke played a slacker asshole guitarist, Troy Dyer, with a cocky strut. In Jesse Peretz’s (Our Idiot Brother, First Love/Last Rites) adaptation of Nick Hornby’s book, Juliet, Naked, it’s essentially as if Troy bumbled his way through a Jeffrey Lebowski wormhole after realizing the world is kind of a bummer and came out as Tucker Crowe — a former SubPopMatadorDischordian sensation. Like any former indie star, he has a handful of dedicated (read: obsessed) fans like Duncan, played by Chris O’Dowd, who’s best known for his role as the nice guy Rhodes in Bridesmaids. Duncan is a dumb dildo who, when not teaching cinema stuff at a college, is pushing his fandom on his unhappy girlfriend, Annie (played by O’Dowd’s Bridesmaids co-star Rose Byrne).
You’ll find yourself irritated when he “well actually”s her about how she just doesn’t get Juliet, Naked, a collection of lost demos by Tucker Crowe. In response, Annie goes onto Duncan’s obsessive Tucker Crowe fansite to leave a flaming post regarding Juliet, Naked.
Soon, she gets an email from Crowe himself, agreeing with her critique. From there an email relationship builds while Duncan begins a dalliance with another teacher. The budding friendship between Tucker and Annie will, as you may have guessed, meet several roadblocks — most of them revolving around the children Tucker created and abandoned. There are a couple of standard rom-com wacky-ish moments in the film, but even those sparse scenes don’t tell you precisely how the story will play out. While themes of grief revolving around missed opportunities (Tucker) and personal renewal (Annie) are present throughout the film, there is also a recurring theme about letting go of nerdish territorialism (Duncan) — a theme also explored in Hornby’s more popular book/film adaptation, High Fidelity.
But in the end of it all, this is a story about Annie — a woman who once loathed the idea of motherhood but finds herself lamenting, “You know what I would do for a couple of angry kids?”
While I wouldn’t think of spoiling her journey, I will say it concludes wonderfully with Chrissie Hynde having “brass in pocket.”
Despite what the film’s stereotypical rom-com poster led me to assume, I enjoyed and was charmed by Juliet, Naked and the nuances of its characters. I wish I could say the same about another recent book adaptation.
Juliet, Naked — Rated R. Directed by Jesse Peretz. Starring Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd.
While watching Isabel Coixet’s take on Penelope Fitzgerald’s book, The Bookshop, I was struck by how lyrical and melancholic the film was. I appreciated what I was watching, but I think that may have been what was sticking with me most. I was watching, but I can’t say that I was engaged.
As the film opens under weepy violins, the narrator states, “She told me once, when we read a story we inhabit it. The covers of the books are like a roof and four walls. A house. She more than anything else in the world loved the moment when you finished a book and the story keeps playing like the most vivid dream in your head.”
Those opening words had me. I was engaged.
From there we drop into the tale of Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), a widow living in a small coastal town of Hardborough, Suffolk. After a long walk, ruminating on a book she just read, she decides to pursue her dream of opening up a bookstore of her own. She meets a lot of opposition in the form of Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), the town’s own wicked witch type with plans of her own. Florence also attracts the attention of Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), a bibliophile recluse, and a little girl who doesn’t cotton to reading much, Christine (Honor Kneafsey), among others. For fans of the acclaimed 1978 novel, I’m curious if this cinematic translation works for them or if maybe the adaptation has come so late that it has moved past conventionality and into cliche.
There are wonderfully dreary exteriors, and the photography and the performances from the main cast members seem pretty on point. Yet it all felt lifeless somehow. A good film will turn a cynic hopeful and make the strong feel weak. I didn’t feel anything of the sort. I kept thinking of a lazy afternoon movie you’d watch on the Hallmark Channel.
I’m a fan of the cast, particularly Mortimer, but that wasn’t enough for me to enjoy The Bookshop overall. Then again, I have a soft spot for a movie like The Happytime Murders so there’s that to consider.
The Bookshop — Rated PG. Directed by Isabel Coixet. Starring Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Nighy.
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