Starring Billy Crudup, Mandy Moore, Tom Wilkinson, Martin Freeman, Dianne Wiest, Bob Balaban, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris and Peter Bogdanovich.
Screenplay by David Bromberg.
Directed by Justin Theroux.
Distributed by The Weinstein Company. 93 minutes. Rated R.
2007 has been a busy year for Mandy Moore – though not necessarily a great one. She released her first album of new music in several years, one which got the best reviews of her career. She did guest appearances on a few TV series like How I Met Your Mother, The Simpsons and Scrubs. She hit just about every talk show known to mankind.
Moore has also been in five movies that were released in the past twelve months (although two of those were made the year before, but sat on the shelf for an abnormally long time).
The fact is, back in 1999 when Moore was a singer climbing the teen pop charts (her biggest hits were the chewy pop nugget “Candy” and the swoony-pretty first-love ballad “I Wanna Be With You”) as a semi-minor league competitor to Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson, no one could have known that she would eventually have an acting career that would dwarf those of her competition. Deservedly so, because Moore is an extremely likeable presence on film.
In fairness, Aguilera has never really given acting a real shot (unless you count her music videos), but check out Moore’s work in comparison to Spears in Crossroads or Simpson in The Dukes of Hazzard or Employee of the Month to see how easily she runs rings around them in terms of sheer acting talent. It must be admitted though that the other singers have had more popular success in singing – which is where they all started out. Moore has moved on – and has a real shot of being a big star in her new field.
However, if Moore ever wants to live up to her potential as an actress, she really needs to be much more careful in choosing projects.
Three of the Moore films released in 2007 were serious contenders for the dubious title of “worst film of the year”: the appalling “romantic-comedies” Because I Said So and License to Wed (neither were funny, nor were they romantic) as well as the pretentious failed art-film head-trip Southland Tales (writer/director Richard Kelly’s botched follow-up to his cult favorite Donnie Darko). She also had a supporting role in the interesting-but-essentially-futile musical Romance and Cigarettes with James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet.
Therefore, Dedication is definitely the best film Moore appeared in during this period – though with the low curve her projects have set, that distinction is no great prize. Dedication is not exactly a good film, but it’s not all that bad either, so it is a huge step up in quality for Miss Moore’s filmography.
Dedication is also a romantic-comedy, although it also is trying desperately to have indie-hipster-cynicism cred. This edge alone makes it light years more bearable than the two pieces of Hollywood rom-com hackwork that she had done earlier in the year. Still, in general, the cynical and humorous parts of Dedication work a hell of a lot better than the romantic parts do – and even those good parts are kind of hit or miss.
Billy Crudup – another actor who rarely finds parts which are worthy of his strong talent – plays Henry Roth, a man who is a ball of neuroses. He is selfish, manic depressive, hooked on drugs, obsessive compulsive, addicted to porn and actively, antagonistically, proudly antisocial. Roth makes his living (irony alert!) writing children’s books.
He is partnered up with Rudy Holt (Tom Wilkinson), an artist who brings his books to life and shares each of his vices – though he may still have a spark of humanity which Henry has lost. This is best shown in a scene when the two are at a book signing and Rudy offers their basketball tickets to a poor little girl and it angers Henry so much that he spitefully punctures several of the girl’s childhood beliefs.
When Rudy dies, Henry is forced to work with an new artist, Lucy (Moore), an impossibly insecure goth. Lucy is so henpecked in life that she is being evicted from her apartment by her own mother (Dianne Wiest) and considers taking back a man who left her a year before for another woman.
Henry and Lucy hate each other immediately and can’t seem to work together, but the publishing house will not let either out of their contracts. They go off to a beach house to try to work – getting on each others’ last nerves to the point that you just know they will fall in love. It happens, though it really feels rather unlikely. They fight and break-up, which also feels rote.
The impossibilities tend to pile up – at one point to win her back Henry has to find a single, specific rock on a stretch of land on the beach in the Hamptons. Then he has to retrieve a book which he threw out a car window somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the way up to the beach – and he is successful in both endeavors. Even a man who is obsessive-compulsive should not have that good a grasp on where these items would have landed when tossed away. Besides, the whole idea that Moore’s character was so caught up in that one stone and placed such symbolic importance to it as far as their relationship was concerned always felt like a huge stretch.
Honestly, the movie was much more interesting, funny and lively when it was exploring the depths of Henry’s depravity than it is when it tries to reclaim his life by teaching him to open himself up. Not every character on film needs to be saved by the power of love. Sometimes they are more interesting when they are irredeemable. Dedication bravely starts down this less-travelled road but then chickens out to take the same old, crowded highway which every other romantic comedy does.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 16, 2008.