Over the past couple decades, Nick Hornby has proven to be a popular source for Hollywood adaptations. His books have been turned into Fever Pitch (twice), High Fidelity (*groans*), About a Boy (as a mediocre film, a failed TV pilot, and an aggressively mediocre TV show), A Long Way Down, and Slam. His screenplays (including An Education and Brooklyn) have proven to be more reliable in quality, but today’s film comes to us from a 2009 novel by Hornby. Putting the film in the hands of Jesse Peretz (who aside from his copious TV work was last seen helming the bland Our Idiot Brother) was hardly an encouraging move, however.
As the center of the film is Rose Byrne as Annie, a woman who runs a small museum in seaside British town, quietly living out an unsatisfied life in her current relationship and dammit, didn’t I just watch this set up? Unlike that film though, she is unmarried and without kids (which is what she had wanted earlier in her life), living with her longtime boyfriend Duncan, played by the always welcome Chris O’Dowd. While she’s sweet and considerate, he’s self-centered and obsessed with the work of a musician (Tucker Crowe) who disappeared decades earlier. He has a creepy room full of all his recordings, pictures of him, the works, and is the head of a fan page for him that talks about him and his small body of work as well as all the conspiracies about him to the detriment of his relationship.
The music fandom is just as unpleasant as it was to watch in High Fidelity, only here the film knows it, but don’t get the impression this is something like Big Fan, it’s still a Nick Hornby film, and the film does its best to make this all light. It also does its best to try and downplay the very obvious homoerotic overtones in his obsessions with another man and the fact that room is the grown man equivalent of a teenage girl’s room with Boyzone pictures plastered all over it. They certainly aren’t unremarked upon, but in a way I’m glad they didn’t take the easy route even if the plot did leave me in the end wishing they had done something more original with deconstructing fandom.
After the boyfriend receives a collection of unreleased demos from Crowe’s famous album and posts a fawning review of them on his site, a fed-up Annie posts a dismissal of it (though I disagree on her broad criticism of demos, that’s neither here nor there). To her surprise, she receives a message from Tucker Crowe himself complimenting her analysis and they start up an email correspondence. The two grow closer making for a well matched and charming pair, even more so when they finally agree to meet up.
It’s all very pleasant and amusing and unlike say Puzzle, which increasingly headed in a more tiresome direction alongside its likable female lead, the dramatic elements never overwhelm the more easy-going ones. The predictable elements are all here, but it’s just nice to see Byrne and Hawke doing their thing and putting a smile on your face. I’ve spoken up in the past here about my feelings on Hawke and I was skeptical heading in here, but he fills his performance with uncharacteristic warmth. It all adds up to a nice, genial and enjoyable film.