Saturday, February 9, 2008


What better viewing for Valentine's Day than an offbeat romantic comedy? But hold on a minute -- Dedication starring Billy Crudup and Mandy Moore isn't your average fluffy, frothy fare. Not that I mind--I like my romcoms a bit twisted. No Kate Hudson sappy stuff for me! And Dedication is certainly twisted--and dark and edgy--due mainly to the misanthropic and neurotic nature of its male lead, Henry Roth (Crudup).

Henry is depressive, abrasive and somewhat abusive. He's also the author of children's books along with his collaborator, illustrator Rudy Holt (Tom Wilkinson). Their initials are HR and RH because Henry and Rudy complement each other perfectly. Rudy is yang to Henry's yin. He is light to Henry's dark. Day to night, up vs. down--well, you get the picture. Rudy is also Henry's best and only friend. Unfortunately, he dies.

Rudy's death in the midst of a contracted collaboration due before Christmas causes publisher Arthur Planck (Bob Balaban) to assign a new illustrator to collaborate with the anxiety-ridden Henry. And that would be the hapless madcap Lucy (Mandy Moore). From there on the story follows the usual romcom formula: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back and they all lived happily ever after. Except for Rudy, who's still dead. But fortunately he haunts Henry throughout the story into coming out of his dark cave and taking a chance on life and love. (Actually it was the relationship of Henry and Rudy that was far more interesting for me...)

Other than the disappointingly formulaic story, the other major irritant for me was writer David Bromberg's choice of depicting these creative characters without ever showing us their creativity. Sure it's ironic to have a children's book author be a neurotic, depressive mess--but why not show the up side of that? The imagination, the storyteller, the bouncing of ideas in the collaboration. Wouldn't it have been more realistic to see the two coming together as a result of the exchange of creative energy? As this story goes, it's really only a result of proximity. And bad Japanese horror flicks.

It seemed to me that this device of children's book author and illustrator was under utilized due to the writer's own ignorance of that world. Bromberg is a writer of course, but the life of a screenwriter is quite different from that of an author. For example, one of the plot points has Henry being replaced from writing the latest Marty the Beaver story. While screenwriters can and often do get replaced and rewritten, Henry as an author holds a copyright to the characters he creates (screenwriters get residuals in lieu of publishing royalties in return for giving up the copyright--which is part of what is involved with the current WGA strike...). And while he could be sued for not delivering a manuscript for which he was contracted, he in turn could sue anyone who infringed on his copyright so there's no way he would be replaced as the writer. Imagine J. K. Rowling being replaced. Would never happen.

After viewing the screener, I wondered what exactly motivated me to request it. I don't dislike Mandy Moore, but I'm not a fan either. I am a fan of Billy Crudup, but still I don't think that would inspire me to watch some random romantic comedy. I would watch Tom Wilkinson read a telephone book, but I'm sure that wasn't the reason...Then as the credits rolled, I saw it. Directed by Justin Theroux! I have loved Justin Theroux's work in Inland Empire and Mulholland Drive and was intrigued to see what his directorial debut would be like. Although I felt the material was weak, the acting (which also featured appearances by Christine Taylor, Dianne Wiest, Amy Sedaris, Bobby Cannavale and Peter Bogdanovich) was top-notch, and stylistically the film was a cut above your usual romantic comedy.

Shot for $1 million in 23 days, this doesn't look like your typical low budget indie. The color palettes are exquisite. The editing is innovative in depicting the short circuits in Henry's brain. While it does appear that Theroux has been influenced artistically by his association with the uniquely talented David Lynch, he definitely puts his own stamp on this film. I am looking forward to seeing future directorial work from him--hopefully with a better script!

Dedication is available on DVD on February 12th.

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