- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

“Dedication” is, I suppose, a romantic comedy. The general plotline is boy meets girl, boy and girl don’t much like each other, boy and girl realize they do like each other, boy does something stupid to lose girl, boy tries to win girl back.

But the similarities between this film and the genre’s blueprint end on the surface.

There’s the question of the lead character, for example. Usually in a romcom, we like both the boy and girl, even if they don’t like each other (see “You’ve Got Mail”).

As a matter of fact, I did like Henry, the depressed and possibly obsessive-compulsive children’s book author played by Billy Crudup. But he’s awfully hard to like.

“Life is nothing but the echo of joy disappearing into the great chasm of misery,” Henry tells his partner, illustrator Rudy (Tom Wilkinson). Henry has issues — he can’t sleep in the same room as his (very soon ex-) girlfriend (Christine Taylor), and he can’t get comfortable unless he’s lying on the floor covered in books.

But it’s not these tics that make him an unlikely romantic hero. He entertains youngsters with his work but seems intent on disillusioning them in real life. When the kindly Rudy takes time at a book signing to chat with a young fan, Henry asks him, “You want to buy her a drink, take her somewhere quiet?” To get rid of the girl, Henry tells her there’s no Santa Claus. “Every other kid is going to be crushed when they find out,” he says defensively. “She’s way ahead of the game.”

Rudy is a bit of an oddball himself — the pair’s recent best-seller “Marty the Beaver” was inspired by vintage porn — but he’s a father figure to Henry nonetheless. So Henry is adrift when Rudy takes ill and he’s forced to work with a young newbie named Lucy (Mandy Moore).

Lucy is rather more likable than Henry, to say the least. But the empathetic young woman, perhaps practiced from dealing with her neurotic mother (Dianne Wiest, funny and typically just short of being over-the-top), sees that Henry’s nasty wall is hiding a fractured and fragile soul.

“Dedication” is the directorial debut of actor Justin Theroux (who’s done his best work for David Lynch in “Mulholland Drive” and “Inland Empire”) and the screenwriting debut of David Bromberg (yes, the roots guitar virtuoso), and both show themselves capable of true magic. Mr. Bromberg’s script is dirty and funny, while Mr. Theroux has made that rare romantic comedy that’s sweet without being cloying.

Bob Balaban is perfectly deadpan and perfectly funny, as usual, as the publisher-cum-baby sitter. Mr. Wilkinson, always a highlight of the films he’s in, thankfully remains in this one even after his illness, though it’s due to a too-often-used fantastical plot device. And young singer Mandy Moore shows she’s got a grown-up acting career ahead of her.

The film belongs, though, to Mr. Crudup, who has the tough task of winning over not only the beautiful Miss Moore but also the audience. But then, women have always loved a man who can make them laugh, and driving down the shoulder of a highway in a Maserati at approximately two miles an hour while wearing a helmet, it’s impossible not to laugh at a man who himself would rather cry.


TITLE: “Dedication”

RATING: R (language and some sexual content)

CREDITS: Directed by Justin Theroux. Written by David Bromberg

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

WEB SITE: www.dedicationmovie.net


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