Monday, March 2, 2009
I like little, slow movies. I like those stories that don't really revolve around a story at all-- nothing really happens, the soundtrack and establishing shots seem to do as much work as the actors, and the protagonist (usually one who is mopey or eccentric or depressed or full of self-sabotage) meanders her or his way from Point A to B. Think Thumbsucker or Lonesome Jim or Broken English or Before Sunrise or All the Real Girls. Even when stuff happens in these movies, it takes its time to happen, and almost everything plot-related seems subservient to character development. Dedication probably belongs in this category of movies. It is the story of Henry (Billy Crudup), a slightly misanthropic children's book author, who is the mourning the death of his best friend, nearest confidant and collaborator, Rudy (Tom Wilkinson). In order to complete a series of books he is contractually obligated to finish, Henry is paired up with Lucy (Mandy Moore), a sweetheart of an illustrator who falls for Henry.
I found it easy enough to be pulled into the movie. Dedication is a sensitive portrayal of intimacy and loss, and it is as much about a man missing a piece of himself as it is about a man missing his friend. As Henry and Lucy grow closer, and as we learn more about Henry and Rudy's relationship in flashbacks, we get to see the pain and pleasure of people growing close and growing apart. I think Billy Crudup is one of the best working actors around and his performance feels instinctive and relaxed. His Henry feels like a real person thinking real thoughts and I bet if the film had been shot four days ago, his performance might be totally different. Mandy Moore is a cutie (although I liked her better in Saved) and I always think Tom Wilkinson is a good addition.
But the movie kind of flops along. It feels as though the writer (David Bromberg) and director (Justin Theroux) made a decision beforehand about the tone of the film. Dedication feels schticky and intentionally quirky. Henry suffers from committment issues, trust issues and getting along with people issues. He is ornery, sadistic and gets off on insulting his fans (children under the age of ten). He is obssessive compulsive-- can't drive a car without a helmet, lays around his apartment with piles of heavy books on his chest, has a fear of certain numbers. All of those things sound peculiar and unconvential, and seem like they could be compelling character traits, but they just come across as contrived and kind of flimsy. Henry's mixed bag of neuroses feels less like the organic idiosyncracies that result from living in a complicated and complex world, and more like a concerted effort to demonstrate "kooky character."
I'm also not totally sure Crudup and Moore have any chemistry. You root for Henry and Lucy to work out because you're pretty sure their union is where the film is supposed to land. But I didn't feel any real draw between the two, and, like so many other lame-ass love stories, you can never really put your finger on what it is they see in each other. Lucy is extremely patient and understanding with Henry and she has some quirks of her own that make her cute (money problems, man problems, crazy landlord mom always threatening to evict her), but she doesn't feel like a real, textured character. Her interest in astronomy is supposed to be endearing and special, I guess, but it just feels like one of those tacked-on traits characters are given in lieu of real development.
But again, I think the movie has its moments. If you can get past the hokey love story, it might be easy to enjoy the ideas of learning to get over yourself, leaving yourself alone and giving in to someone else.