It takes perseverance to get through 'Dedication'
I want the best for Mandy Moore. I really do. I wish her tougher pop songs, a less severe color for her hair, and movies that don't give cavities. She seems wise to that last part, since, for her latest romantic comedy, "Dedication," Moore has put her sunshine in storage and hooked herself up with some New York hipsters. The actor Justin Theroux directed the movie; Billy Crudup, in sweatshirts, skinny jeans, and a cantankerous mood, is her costar; and the soundtrack has been loaded with the painfully chic likes of Deerhoof, Fischerspooner, and the Strokes. If Moore was looking for a cooler gig than "Because I Said So," in theory, she's found it. Still, the effect she has on the movie is the same: It's a little lighter, despite her hair, which is almost defensively black. (Presumably, it's supposed to match the film's comic mood.)
Unlike most of what Moore has been in, "Dedication" is unlikely to delight retirement homes on movie night. But it's not imaginative, lively, or true enough to speak to its intended audience of American Apparel shoppers, either. It's a slog. Crudup plays Henry, the severely neurotic author of a children's book series whose illustrator and best friend (Tom Wilkinson) has died. The worried publisher (Bob Balaban, stuck behind yet another desk) hires Moore's character, Lucy, to take over the illustrations for an amount of money she says makes her feel like a whore. She should feel considerably worse than that since Henry insults her again and again, until, of course, he realizes he loves her. But the movie strains for complication, so Lucy must fend off the silly reappearance of a professorial ex (Martin Freeman) who appears to have dedicated his new book to her.
Whenever possible, David Bromberg's screenplay settles for aggravating contrivances. Lucy lives in an apartment owned by her mother (Dianne Wiest, at full exasperated tilt), who wants to kick her out. And Henry talks to his dead buddy who shows up to give advice. The movie never finds anything believable or true to say; so whenever Crudup or Moore or anybody else speaks you want to cover your ears or change the channel. "She's lovely like an antelope in a junkyard," says Wilkinson of Moore in one moment of tortured poetry. Only the clammy pallor of Crudup's skin seems fresh. Even his depiction of crabby author is stale. He does cranky like a young, handsome Ted Knight.
Theroux brings none of the electric surprise or intensity of his acting to bear on the movie. He seems unhappy with the assignment. So his film is an arty work of dejection that never rises to the occasion of actual art. There are moments when you suspect the film might be heading into the clever metaphysical playgrounds of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry. But that never comes to pass. It turns out the movie is low on eternal sunshine but full of spotless mind.