Independent American Cinema. I always end up writing introductory paragraphs for this complex term. I think I know how it goes, and a lot of people do. The thing is, that when you encounter a film like "Dedication", you find yourself decomposing the terminology again. Of course it's not a necessary thing to do, but it's interesting. Justin Theroux directed the film, his first and only one still. Judging from his background we can say that he understands and respects independent productions, therefore I don't think his film is in any sense a mockery or a reinvention of the notion. I remember the introduction of Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages"; it was a joke, but a sort of internal one...Her film was proudly independent.
Well, "Dedication" is also proud of being independent. It's obviously done with a low budget, it's filmed in real locations, it contains screwed up characters, a lot of intelligent (or apparently intelligent) lines, music and soundtrack that comes from nowhere and a generally depressive mood that tends to define a big part of these productions. But, above all, and this is not something we see in every indie picture, "Dedication" is weird. I don't precisely mean this in a general way.
You see, firstly, it's a romantic comedy. Neither clearly romantic, nor instantly funny, it encounters two characters in desperate situations. Writer Henry Roth (Billy Crudup) has just lost his best friend and illustrator Rudy (a pleasant Tom Wilkinson) and is forced, because of legal issues, to finish his next children's book along Lucy Reilly (Mandy Moore), a young girl who landed a drawing job. Besides the unclear presence or existence of the company he works for and the strange nature of his boss (Bob Balaban), Henry is a man with a lot of complexes. In a vibrant scene (one of the few in a slow movie), he tells Lucy all of his virtues and defects, or something like it. Billy Crudup portrays the character... Weird. Later on, Lucy encounters her mother (Dianne Wiest), a manic individual with changing personality, and after they discuss their life situation and, when a bit later, we see Henry talking to his dead friend, we understand both characters have serious issues.
But this is not the kind of story in which two souls with no way to go in life find each other and fall in love. Screenwriter David Bromberg and first time director Theroux know better. The characters have met in peculiar circumstances and those circumstances will remain. The 'get to know' process between Henry and Lucy is not what we see in a usual romantic comedy, but wait... I'm not trying to say "Dedication" isn't your typical romantic comedy; in fact, I'm not sure if I even consider it a romantic comedy. I think, as I stated before, that the film is weird. However, the problem is that, as if "indie" and "weird" were meant for each other, Theroux's movie is proudly weird.
OK. The good thing about this is that, by being weird, the film is disinterested, and it grows more disinterested by the minute. This ends up in unconnected moments and actions without explanation performed by the characters. They are cold to each other but soon they begin to find love; they meet other characters that make the viewer think of structures of the usual romantic comedy and soon these characters fade away. They don't disappear, but they don't seem to fit entirely in the mood of a film that would have no notion of time if it weren't for a deadline to finish the book. The characters go from one extreme to another and are not completely faithful to their personalities, but somehow it feels right. I don't know if I make myself clear; this is a film you have to watch. On the downside, some shots and resources are too forced and repetitive, some editing effects don't fit and some musical choices are just too much. This last part is a personal opinion about a personal search of a director in his first film, something I always respect.
I believe the film only cares about Henry, but Theroux –an actor- gives too much freedom to a Billy Crudup who delivers a performance that's not entirely convincing. On the other hand, it's to Mandy Moore's credit that we sympathize with her character. Lucy is her weirdest and most ordinary creation (yes, it's weird because it's ordinary), and she makes for the kind of girl a troubled individual would fall for, kind of what occurred with Anna Paquin's role in another indie called "Blue State"; directed by Marshall Lewy, also a first film and with a lot of similarities to "Dedication". Then again, what's wrong here is that the sort of crusade Henry does for love, in the typical romantic comedy fashion, is something he could do for any other girl. The movie presents Lucy as "the one", but the truth is that someone like Henry could find lots of Lucys (not a thousand, we might say, but a few more in the life he's got left).
In this particular aspect (and in the rest of particularities you might find in the movie), I'm not praising "Dedication" for sidestepping –or at least fooling, because that's the game of the movie; it goes completely overboard with the cliché but then does something unexpected that, we can tell, is not thought with the intention of omitting a formula- the clichés of a genre, I'm embracing its general disinterest (I applaud it), which concludes in a weirdness that the movie also embraces. And I'm not even saying it's a good film.
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