September 11, 2007 | Comments ()

By John Williams | Film | September 11, 2007 |






Dedication has a lot of things going against it — romantic contrivances, characters conversing with spirits (spectral, not alcoholic), and overuse of indie-rock songs and visual gimmicks to cue emotional responses, to name three. But it has one big thing going for it — Billy Crudup.

Crudup doesn’t appear in movies very often, but when he does he’s reliably pretty damn good. In Dedication, he plays Henry, an increasingly familiar type — the depressed, creative male plagued by crippling quirkiness. In the case of Henry, a writer of books for children, a generalized hatred of people (especially women, because of an abusive mother) is joined to several phobias and what seems like a mild case of Tourette’s.

When Henry’s illustrator and best/only friend Rudy (Tom Wilkinson) dies, Alan Planck (Bob Balaban), the publisher of their bestseller starring Marty the Beaver, wants to find a new drawing partner pronto, to finish a Christmas-themed follow-up in time for the holiday season. After a funny scene in which Planck auditions a few young candidates, telling them that success is “ninety-nine percent perseverance and one percent talent. Congratulations, you’re ninety-nine percent of the way there,” he offers the gig to Lucy (Mandy Moore).

Lucy’s working relationship with Henry almost ends before it begins when he berates her at their very first meeting. She storms out, vowing not to work with such a world-class jerk. An offer from Planck of $200,000 to fight through it helps to change her mind.

What happens from there is predictable. Henry remains hard to like, but he lets down his guard just enough to allow Lucy a glimpse of his more vulnerable side, and this, along with his square jaw, sets her on the road to falling for him, nuttiness, hostility and all. Their budding romance is complicated by the reappearance of Lucy’s old flame (not to mention Henry’s self-destructive behavior), and people have to prove their intentions to each other, and emotional screw-ups lead to unlikely acts of atonement, and the book is jeopardized by the love-hate chaos surrounding its production, and Henry learns about himself and makes a well-intentioned lunge toward personal growth — but is he too late? Et-freaking-cetera.

All of this occasionally threatens to become too much to take, especially when it’s accompanied by heavy-handed attempts at colorful detail. (Do Henry and Rudy really sit to casually chat over coffee on the base of the giant World’s Fair globe in Queens??) But Crudup salvages things with a strong central performance, resisting most of the stereotypical tics available for such a characterization. When he begins to catalog his neuroses, fears, likes, and dislikes as a way of breaking the ice with Lucy, the audience might rightfully fear the coming torrent of studied oddities, but Crudup redeems the formula in a way that makes Lucy’s (and our) softening toward him more understandable.

Crudup is accompanied by some fine supporting actors, even if none of their characters are particularly rich. In addition to Wilkinson and Balaban, Dedication features Martin Freeman as Lucy’s former beau, Dianne Wiest as her mother, and cameos by Amy Sedaris, Bobby Cannavale, and Peter Bogdanovich. The impossibly attractive Moore isn’t going to bowl anyone over with her performance, not least because Lucy is underwritten, but she’s serviceable, and the fact that she shares so much screen time with Crudup without embarrassing herself speaks well of her potential. Plus, that hair! Those eyes!

Sorry.

The two have decent chemistry (the scene involving their first kiss — and if you think that’s a spoiler, you’ve never seen a movie — is one of Dedication’s best). The script has just enough spark to keep things from growing tedious, and there’s one decision that Henry makes in his courtship (regarding information he has about Lucy’s ex) that proves Dedication is smart enough to play with certain conventions, even as it caves in to others, and say something fresh(ish) about what it means to love and respect someone. It’s not perfect by a long shot, but it manages to be romantic, which is more than most recent romances can say.

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

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The Lovable Misogynist. Again.

Dedication / John Williams

Film | September 11, 2007 | Comments ()



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