We’ve seen two of Nick Hornby’s novels adapted into a couple of our favorite romantic comedies, High Fidelity and About a Boy. Those movies had memorable stories and great casts, with actors such as John Cusack, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hugh Grant, and Toni Collette. But while those movies are great rom-coms, they’re not known for giving women as much voice as the men.

Juliet, Naked has a much better balance. Adapted from Hornby’s 2009 novel, the story is fueled by the same love of music we saw in High Fidelity. There’s also a great cast – in this case, the trio of Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, and Chris O’Dowd. They play a couple, and a musician, connected by a lost album.

While you can expect a lot from all the performers, one thing sets Juliet, Naked apart: Rose Byrne gets to lead the story. The movie forges a romance out of unexpected elements, and gives the reins to the character who would have been a supporting player in our other fave Hornby movies.

It Just Takes One Email

[Credit: Lionsgate & Roadside Attractions ]

Like some of the best love affairs, the one in Juliet, Naked begins with a complaint. Chris O’Dowd plays Duncan, a college teacher, and more importantly a super-fan of ‘90s musician Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). Duncan lives with his girlfriend Annie (Rose Byrne), who is starting to confront her unrealized ambitions – and who might be reconsidering her partnership with Duncan.

Tucker Crowe withdrew from public life after his 1993 album ‘Juliet,’ considered by fans to be a masterwork. So Duncan is elated to find demos for the album, labeled as ‘Juliet, Naked.’ Annie, who has been given the full court press about Crowe’s brilliance, isn’t impressed by the rough songs. She articulates those feelings in an article for Duncan’s Tucker Crow fan website – and soon gets an email agreeing with her opinion.

The email is from Crowe himself. While that sets up a back and forth, this doesn’t turn into You’ve Got Mail. Crowe is living a pretty sad lifestyle, and he’s got a string of kids from a whole series of relationships. Soon, however, he and Annie are involved in a regular correspondence. When the former rocker comes to London, near where Annie and Duncan live, the stage is set for everyone to confront some difficult truths.

Rose Takes The Lead

[Credit: Lionsgate & Roadside Attractions ]

As all that implies, Juliet, Naked isn’t a straightforward rom-com. The characters are all dealing with some pretty big problems. It’s funny – this is still a comedy – but there’s a slight extra edge. The film isn’t afraid to veer directly into dramatic territory.

That’s where the trio of actors comes in. Chris O’Dowd gets to play the nerdy, bookish music lover, and it’s the sort of role you could think he was made for. Ethan Hawke, meanwhile, is probably the only person who could have been cast as the reclusive rocker whose reputation gets the story going. That character’s persona is so close to our image of Hawke from the ’90s that the movie can rely on Hawke to make the character perfect. 

Rose Byrne, however, is the one who will certainly steal the show. As Annie, she gets to play so much more than she’s been offered before. There’s the opportunity for nuance here, with Annie mixing all the emotions we’ve felt in relationships new and old. Byrne should really thrive with the chance to make this character come to life, especially as she explores what Annie really wants. 

The film’s director, Jesse Peretz, has a uniquely informed viewpoint on the story, too. He was the founding bassist of the Boston band The Lemonheads and continued working with the band as their photographer even after putting down his instrument. Peretz went on to make music videos before developing his career as a feature director – which means he’s seen the rock scene from the inside and has an intimate understanding of a character like Tucker Crowe.

Between his insight and Byrne’s abilities, Juliet, Naked has the chance to go to new places in the familiar rom-com territory.

See Juliet, Naked on August 24.