By Lexi Feinberg
Happily Never After
With "Dedication," eccentric actor Justin Theroux ("Mulholland Drive," "Six Feet Under") takes his first trip behind the camera to tell the tale of Henry (Billy Crudup), a mean-spirited children's book author who is forced to work with Lucy (Mandy Moore), a sweet-natured illustrator. Theroux's aim is to make an unconventional rom-com that deals with troubled people and varying degrees of sanity, but it's a lot less original and clever than he'd like to believe. The most surprising thing about this movie is just how unsurprising it is.
"Dedication" borrows elements from standard romantic comedies (they don't get along at first - guess how that turns out!) and throws in a made-up illness played solely for uncomfortable snickers; there is plenty wrong with Henry, but nothing you're likely to find after hours of skimming the DSM-IV.
When his only friend/former illustrator (Tom Wilkinson) dies, he occasionally sleeps in the cemetery with the tombstone lying on his body, you know, to "feel safe." He doesn't throw away towels because he thinks they have feelings, he says hateful things without provocation (such as debunking Santa to a little girl at a book signing), he can only turn objects counter-clockwise, he wears a helmet when he drives, and so forth. But yet, he is functional enough to hold down a job and to buy Lucy a telescope when she mentions a passing interest in the stars.
And that sums up the film's problem as a whole - nothing quite gels structurally. There is little to suggest that these two people would be interested in each other, besides the fact that they both have mommy issues and nobody else to talk to. Likewise, it's hard to believe that a character as morose as Henry could ever make a living writing hit children's books, let alone cheery ones about Marty the Beaver (an idea conjured up while watching, what else?, an adult film). "Dedication" seems purely driven by whatever newbie writer David Bromberg and Theroux think is cool from moment to moment.
Besides the whimsical, peculiar music provided by Deerhoof, the best thing about "Dedication" is the acting, which is far better than the material warrants. Crudup has been in the mother of all career slumps since 2000's "Almost Famous,"
and this not-realistic-but-occasionally-amusing character finally gives him a chance to stop sleepwalking through roles. Wilkinson appears mainly as a figment of Henry's imagination (one of many stylistic devices here, along with a series of jarring jump cuts) and provides a necessary voice of reason in the film. And Moore is effortlessly loveable as the sad-eyed, stringy-haired, black nail polish-wearing artist whose only real flaw is her subpar taste in men.
"Dedication" is not a total throwaway, but it's tainted by too many missed opportunities and misguided segues. Much like Henry himself, the film is fickle and out of its mind, and not in a good way.