Dedication: Justin Theroux Directing Debut

Sundance Film Fest 2007–The New York actor, Justin Theroux, previously mostly associated with David Lynch’s films, and now an ensemble member of the popular TV series “Brothers and Sisters,” makes a disappointingly messy feature directorial debut with “Dedication,” a wannabe witty and stylish love story.

Well-connected due to his background, perhaps Theorux’s greatest achievement is his ability to assemble a talented ensemble of both young and vet thesps from the indie and Hollywood milieus.

Chameleon-like actor Billy Crudup plays Henry Roth (a take on famed novelist Philip Roth), a misanthropic, emotionally complex author of a hit childrens book series, who is forced to team with a beautiful illustrator Lucy (Mandy Moore), after his best friend and creative collaborator (vet Brit actor Tom Wilkinson) passes away. Bob Balaban and Dianne Wiest play Henry’s publisher and Lucy’s mother, respectively.

After the first reel, we get all the characters weakness and quirks. Owing its bizarre spiritand perhaps very existenceto mentor David Lynch, “Dedication” goes out of its way to show its offbeat and quirky sensibility to little effect.

Messed up, Henry is the kind of childrens book author who likes to tell kids that Santa doesnt really exist! He hates sleeping with, or next to, any person, including his girlfriend. Henry is the type of “sensitive man” who can’t throw away a towel because he’s afraid to hurt the object’s feelings

To feel safe, he believes he must lay on the floor, with big, heavy objects (like books!) on his chest. The porno-inspired tome, “Marty the Beaver,” that must be completed by Christmas time, becomes a bestseller, after which Wilkinson dies. Well, not quite, or no completely since he comes back as a ghost.

Henry’s motto is, Life is nothing but the occasional burst of laughter rising above the interminable wail of grief. And “Dedication” is “nothing but the occasional burst of laughter rising above the interminable wail of boredom,” to paraphrase Henry.

Embarking on a creative and emotional odyssey, Henry struggles with letting go of the ghosts of love and life, discovering in the process that maybe all it takes is a little dedication.

Like others before him, such as Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, and John Turturro, Theroux brings an actorish perspective to the yarn, except that the aforementioned thesp-turned helmers have made their debuts and/or worked with worthier texts than Theroux, who peculiarly chose David Bromberg’s script for his debut.

The usually too cute Moore, a grown-up woman now, comes into her own, perhaps inspired by the fantastic actors around her. She renders a better performance than her usual norm in Hollywood’s mellers. Inexplicably for a proud pro, Lucy is seldom seen at work as illustrator and she has to work over time to prove to Henry than selfish and rude guys can change–and also be loved. Moore, like Wilkinson and the rest of the troupe, is limited by her underdeveloped part. The whole movie is under-nourished considering that its story runs close to two hours.

A minor film that’s essentially more conventional and mainstream than Theroux or his writer would have us believe, “Dedication” works (too) hard, but doesn’t succeed, to sustain its frolic, humorous tone–it could be that in the end obnoxious guys like Henry account for obnoxious movies.

That said, production values are quite good for a first film. “Dedication” was shot entirely on location in New York City by cinematographer Stephen Kazmierski, whose sharp eye for detail captures vividly both Balabans sleek Midtown Manhattan office and Crudups dingy Lower East Side loft.

The lively soundtrack, featuring Deerhoof, Leadbelly, Cat Power, Fischerspooner, and The Strokes contributes to the film’s restless mood, though musical montages and interludes are overused.

Running time of 112 minutes is excessive for any romantic comedy, particularly for a mediocre one like “Dedication,” which overextends its welcome by at least 25 minutes.

Cast:

Henry Roth – Billy Crudup
Lucy Reilly – Mandy Moore
Carol – Dianne Wiest
Arthur Planck – Bob Balaban
Don Meyers – Bobby Cannavale
Allison – Christine Taylor
Roger Spade – Peter Bogdanovich
Cassidy’s Mom – Amy Sedaris
Abusive Mom – Catherine Kellner
Robin – Chris Fitzgerald
Matthew – Jeremy Shamos
Jeremy – Martin Freeman
Rudy Holt – Tom Wilkinson

Credits

A Weinstein Co. and First Look Features release of a Plum Pictures presentation in association with Hart/Lunsford Pictures.
Produced by David Bromberg, Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Galt Niederhoffer. Executive producers, Justin Theroux, Chip Seelig, Reagan Silber, Luke Weinstock.
Co-producers, Pamela Hirsch, Carina Alves, Jai Stefan.
Directed by Justin Theroux.
Screenplay: David Bromberg.
Cinematography: Steve Kazmierski.
Editor, Andy Keir.
Music: Edward Shearmur; additional music, Deerhoof.
Production designer: Teresa Mastropierro.
Set decorator: Niamh Byrne.
Costume designer: Heidi Bivens.
Sound: Ken Ishii.
Associate producer: Jessica Levin

Running time: 112 Minutes.