Movie Review: Dedication
By Sid Smith, Tribune arts critic
"Dedication" marks the directorial debut of actor Justin Theroux, and therein lies a clue as to what's right and wrong with the movie.
Surprise, surprise, it's an actor's showcase, mainly for one actor in it: Billy Crudup, the temperamental, moody performer playing Henry, a temperamental, moody children's book author. Henry is strange (he likes to lie on the floor covered with heavy objects like books), embittered (he tells a kid there's no Santa Claus at a book signing), but soft underneath, waiting to be loved. Doses of Jack Nicholson's obsessive-compulsive disorder from "As Good As It Gets" are thrown into the mix. Call it Henry, Portrait of a Serial Nutcase.
Crudup, with credits including "Almost Famous," "The Good Shepherd" and "Mission Impossible III," has a love affair with the camera that Theroux is willing to help him consummate. Frame by frame, Crudup is fascinating.
Henry is a damaged, uncommunicative young man, who has retreated into an isolated artistic life revolving around his professional partnership with an older illustrator, nicely played by Tom Wilkinson. Crudup glories in delicate facial tics, startling mood shifts and masterful segues from withering meanness to wounded vulnerability. He's masterful, if a tad mannerly.
"Dedication" is engaging for a while, but flits from style to style, from dark to loopy comedy, only to settle on gooey romance. When Wilkerson's character dies, Henry is forced to team up with a new partner, a gamy young woman (Mandy Moore), who's financially irresponsible, but more centered than Henry.
The trope of man-child nurtured by quasi-flaky earth mother is familiar, on view in "You Can Count on Me," with Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. Moore is no Linney. She's largely straight foil to Crudup's blinks and twitches. Also, the pairing in that earlier film was about a brother and sister, not a romance. With sexual tension in the recipe, the last act of "Dedication" sinks in a quicksand of syrup.
Not that there weren't stylistic troubles already. Wilkinson hangs around as a ghost, an overworked device that should be declared off limits for a while. And Theroux tosses in home-movie-like clips and Baroque editing that make for a schizophrenic mix. An insight into Henry's disordered mind, maybe, but transparent window-dressing on a core that's standard romance and manipulation.
David Bromberg's often sharp script provides Crudup some icy, ugly lines in the early scenes, cruel put-downs to convey Henry's resentment that Moore is usurping the dead Wilkinson. But you can too easily guess, once the couple quit sparring and make hormonal nice-nice, what will happen.
It doesn't help that the plot has such annoyances as an amber-colored rock Crudup finds and gives Moore with affection, only to throw away when they differ and, in remorse, recover after hours of desperate searching. Love means never having to throw away your mutual pebble.
Surely modern romance, especially when damaged and arty, can do better.
Directed by Justin Theroux; written by David Bromberg; photographed by Stephen Kazmierski; edited by Andy Keir; music by Ed Shearmur; production design by Teresa Mastropierro; produced by Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Galt Niederhoffer and Celine Rattray. A Weinstein Company release. Running time: 1:33. MPAA rating: R (language and some sexual content).
Henry - Billy Crudup
Lucy - Mandy Moore
Rudy - Tom Wilkinson
Arthur - Bob Balaban