One of the go-to plot devices in films, especially the romantic comedy is quite simple. You take a man who is a misogynist and force him to come in contact with a bright, lively woman. Now if you can manage to expand his disdain for women to a general misanthrope, then that is even better. This basic theme was played out in just about every film that Humphrey Bogart and did with Lauren Bacall. He would play the gruff man while she countered with the forceful woman. One difficulty with films that attempt to employ this format now is the resultant flicks have awfully big shoes to fill. One of the latest movies to tries to recapture this old school feeling is ‘Dedication’ from Justin Theroux. It is not that the film is bad, it isn’t. It is just that we have seen it all before done by the people who defined this particular genre. That was one positive thing about the studio system from the golden age of Hollywood. They knew how to pair actors together for maximum effect. Bogart and Bacall had an undeniable chemistry that leaped off the screen. This came not only from there personal relationship but that they worked on several films together. ‘Dedication’ has the right mix of ingredients but lacks the experience of a master chief to blend it all together properly.
Theroux is an experienced character actor with credits in both film and television. This is his freshmen work behind the camera as a director. For this film, Theroux worked off a script by another newcomer David Bromberg. They have studied the great films of the genre; this film is a nice homage to them. They each have the fundamental talent to pull this off given a little additional practice. Their attempt is laudable, to say the least. Theroux tries too hard at times to get all the pieces of every romantic comedy all at once. There are also little modern touches that Bacall would never do like leave a sexual toy in the fridge left there by the young woman for her mother to find. He also takes the film darker than is necessary to make a comedy-drama work. It is almost as if Theroux wanted to make a dark comedy and romantic comedy but wasn’t quite sure which way to go. Taken a piece at a time the movie has its moments. It falls apart some when trying to fit everything together. We all know from the moment the film starts that the hateful man will fall in love with the spirited girl. A film like this is not about the ending but the journey and in this case the road has a few too many detours.
The film starts with two men talking while an old film is being shown, ‘The Sailor and the Park Avenue Princess.’ One mentions that they are supposed to be writing a children’s book. It turns out the film is a porno. The two men in the almost empty audience are Henry (Billy Crudup) and Rudy (Tom Wilkinson). While watching Rudy suddenly gets an idea, and the men rush out. The inspiration that hit Rudy was for a children’s book name ‘Marty the Beaver’; after all what kid doesn’t like beavers. Henry writers the story and Rudy illustrates it, and they begin to hawk it to publishers. While waiting for a meeting, Henry confides in Rudy that he girlfriend Allison (Christine Taylor) wants him to either get engaged or sleep on the living room couch. Pragmatically Rudy tells Henry that the reason that people get together now is they are looking for similarly broken others, communicating through damage. The editor Arthur Planck (Bob Balaban) takes a look and soon Marty the Beaver is a huge Christmas hit. The pressure is on for Rudy and Henry to do a follow-up on the story as fast as possible. Things look like it might work out for them until Rudy gets sick with a brain tumor and rapidly dies. Even on his deathbed Rudy openly tells Henry that he wouldn’t trade places with him. Henry is broken up when Rudy dies, but Arthur insists that the work must go on. He tells Henry that he has to find another illustrator since they have a legal obligation to publish the next book. On his way out of the office, Henry bumps into Lucy (Mandy Moore), who happens to be an aspiring illustrator. Lucy winds up with the lamentable assignment of illustrating the book for Henry. At one point she is even offered a $200,000 bonus if she can assure they are done on time.
It is an understatement to say that the two don’t get along. Not only has Henry’s overbearing, foul mouth and spiteful girlfriend done her best to turn him off women, in general, he deeply misses his only friend, Rudy. This is not to say that Lucy is living a carefree and wonderful life, she has her problems as well. Among the top of them is her mother Carol (Dianne Wiest). Lucy is renting her apartment from her mother and is behind in the rent. Mom feels free just to burst in anytime she wants and pokes around. Lucy wants to be an artist, but Carol wants her daughter to go to law school. When the meet Henry and Lucy couldn’t be more different; she is overly open while he is closed tight. She tries to be friendly, but he is outright insulting. Lucy is under pressure from her mother to come up with the rent and living expenses which would prove that she can earn a living with art. Henry is contractually obliged to come up with the next book. They fight and bicker, but of course, in the end, they come together.
There are a few plot devices that become annoying fast. One is Rudy’s post-death appearances as the conscious of Henry. It is overused and doesn’t do anything to further the plot. Another is the way the relationship between Lucy and Carol is shown. Every time they get together they fight about money and then sit on the couch and drink tea. Visually the film is choppy. I suppose that this is to reflect the inner turmoil of Henry, but there are better ways to get the point across that wouldn’t interfere with the flow of the picture. Theroux fairs are much better with his actors than he does with the technical side of the film. Since he comes from an acting background, this is not unexpected. He gives the cast the room they need to develop their characters and the goes a long way here. Bromberg’s script is very good with witty dialogue that moves the film along well.
Even with its flaws, the cast shines in this film. Crudup is well cast as the unlikable Henry. He allows just even humanity to come through, so the audience feels there might be some hope for him. He is a quite misanthrope, not yelling his hatred at the top of his lungs but sitting with a quiet resentment of his fellow man. As usual, Moore is excellent. Many pop star singers have tried to move over to films with less than great results. Moore has been busy honing her craft before the camera. She has taken smaller roles in little Indy films, and the result is she is building to an excellent actress. Moore can be interesting no matter what role she takes on.
This DVD of this film comes from one of the best for Indy films, Genus Production in association with the Weinstein Company. As always the technical specifications are excellent with an anamorphic 1.78:1 video and brisk Dolby 5.1 audio. This is a solid first work for the director and writer as well as a good work by the cast.
Posted 02/05/08 09/11/2018