The Reeler

Reviews

August 23, 2007

Dedication

Theroux's debut a mid-90s redemption romance in the All the Sad Young Dudes mold

During this final leg of the summer, the crop of young actors dabbling in direction grows more bumper-ish each week. This Friday, in fact, there are two to choose between: The Hottest State from Ethan Hawke (see review) and Dedication, the directing debut of actor Justin Theroux. Between Julie Delpy two weeks ago and Ben Affleck this coming fall, you'd think the cream of the mid-'90s indie sweetheart scene was having a midlife career crisis. Judging from most of these efforts, the directors are having a crisis -- a mid-'90s, indie sweetheart crisis. Dedication is Exhibit A; featuring a kind of roughshod quirkiness and an offbeat soundtrack you will either find grating or ingratiating, Theroux has chosen the moody dude romance for his debut, the kind that would have slayed in, say, 1995. Which is not to say that it isn't a fine effort 12 years later, just a mildly quizzical one.

And also not to say that I will ever tire of All the Sad Young Dudes as a filmic (or literary) genre; done well, it's watershed stuff, full of generational intel and timeless stats on the curious, wonderful, terrible human condition of youth. And dudes. It's full of dudes. In the mid-'90s those dudes were troubled, more incessantly and annoyingly troubled than perhaps any generation previous, though (and perhaps because) there had never been less obvious reason for mass disillusion. At least the '50s had the Korean War and the lingering prevalence of suspenders. But they found reasons. That's what Sad Young Dudes do.

In Dedication, Billy Crudup plays Henry, and Henry's reason seems to be an inbred, general misanthropy -- heavy on the daddy issues -- further fueled by his disgust with the culture he contributes to as a children's book author. Henry is a collection of tics and twat-ish behavior; initially it costs him his girlfriend, and when he is forced to replace Rudy (Tom Wilkinson), his father figure and illustrator with Lucy (Mandy Moore), it almost costs him his career. During their initial meeting, Henry is hideous to Lucy, unleashing a tide of some of the ugliest, most ungenerous speculation this side of David Thewlis in Naked. Crudup wears the jerkitude well (Henry is a prodigal son of Fuckhead, Crudup's role in Jesus' Son); pale and wary in a brush-cut, big puffy high-tops and tight black jeans, even his eyes seem beadier as he cuts them at the innocence and enthusiasm of small children. Henry is social anthrax; it seems he can't come into contact with anyone without contaminating them.

Moore (luminous even in full smokey eye make-up, sporting expertly chinked nailpolish and a deftly sculpted shag), bears up well under the scrutiny of her partner, but is more fun in her scenes with Dianne Wiest, who plays her mother (like Henry, her father's absence is a source of angst). Every interaction between the two women begins with Mom attempting to evict daughter from her apartment (Wiest is the terrifying combination of mother/landlord). Lucy is a struggling illustrator just looking for a paycheck, and makes sure she is paid handsomely to put up with such a prat. She is also nursing a broken heart; a Brit named Jeremy did the honors, and he shows up in New York looking for her just as romance is set to bloom with Henry. Played by Martin Freeman, Jeremy is a vomitous writer who thinks that slapping a dedication at the front of his latest hardcover yawn will redress his longstanding dickery; to add insult to poetic injustice, he appears to be right.

Theroux indulges in some arty kick -- loads of flash cuts, edgy i.e. tiresome hallucination, stagy settings (a misty cemetery and the giant globe at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park), and music-driven sequences -- but there are some nice touches and solid performances as well. Henry literally needs something to hold him down, usually stacks of books piled atop his chest, and Moore is such a smooth and comfortable presence onscreen that the at times embarrassingly naked framework of David Bromberg's screenplay seems almost believable; who wouldn't want to get off of the floor for her? When their kiss finally arrives it is as sweet as pie, and the tortured machinations that follow can be forgiven, as they lead up to an exhilarated sequence in which the firmly earthbound -- if not subterranean -- nature of our sad young dude (and this film) breaks open and lunges for the stars.

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