Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA/United Kingdom, 2018. Los Angeles Media Fund, Rocket Science, Bona Fide Productions, Apatow Productions, Turnlet Films, Ingenious Media, Focus Features, Stage 6 Films. Screenplay by Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor, Tamara Jenkins, based on the novel by Nick Hornby. Cinematography by Remi Adefarasin. Produced by Judd Apatow, Albert Berger, Barry Mendel, Jeffrey Soros, Ron Yerxa. Music by Nathan Larson. Production Design by Sarah Finlay. Costume Design by Lindsay Pugh. Film Editing by Sabine Hoffman, Robert Nassau.
Nick Hornby once again takes us into the world of a maturity-challenged man and the good woman who must decide if she’s going to deal with it or move on. This time it takes the form of Chris O’Dowd, citizen of a gorgeous English seaside town, whose obsession with a long-forgotten indie rock star of the nineties (played by Ethan Hawke) is something that his girlfriend Rose Byrne finds adorable despite not at all sharing his interest. O’Dowd runs a web forum dedicated to the legendary musician, who vanished into thin air and left the industry swirling in rumours, among them stories of a doomed love affair with a woman named Juliet. This was also the name of his most popular album, which sees new light when an acoustic version of it surfaces after years and sets his fan base abuzz, O’Dowd himself making sure to take the time to give his followers a thorough review (Hornby and the screenwriters’ ridicule of both internet commentary and the reviewing professions in general are pointed, merciless and very funny). Byrne also throws in her two cents, making a comment online about the album that gets a response from none other than the real musician himself. Once she ascertains that it’s not a prank and she’s speaking to the real guy, she sparks up a warm and friendly letter exchange with him but doesn’t inform her boyfriend, and this privileges us to Hawke’s current life in the US, living on the back property of an ex where they are raising their son together. He comes to London to visit his daughter who is about to have a child and it gives him and Byrne the chance to meet, though this is hampered by the fact that all the loose ends of his life, including numerous exes and children, converge and threaten to swallow him whole. What has up until now been nothing but charming, well observed and brimming with charisma somewhat loses its way in the last third, when Byrne takes Hawke to her neighbourhood and introduces him to O’Dowd. There’s a disconnect there that feels jarring, likely because the film doesn’t have a properly padded out final act and feels incredibly short, as if the filmmakers were unable to decide whose narrative to resolve in great detail and decided to simply cut them all. Loathe as one is to complain about a film not being long enough, this feeling of an abrupt ending puts a major flaw into an enjoyable comedy that was bouncing along with such amiable gusto, smarter and more memorable than any Hornsby adaptation since High Fidelity. The performances all sparkle, and the dialogue (from a script co-written by The Savages scribe Tamara Jenkins) is terrific.