Dir: Justin Theroux. US. 2007. 112mins.
After playing a malevolent director in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, actor Justin Theroux takes the plunge down the rabbit hole with Dedication, bringing an electric charge and furious energy to the story of a misanthropic writer of children's books whose professional pairing with a beautiful designer makes him more recognisably human.
Lynch appears to be the dominant visual and aural influence (there's an audio clip from Blue Velvet). Like Lynch, Theroux has an art background, and his ambitious visual work attempts to achieve a heightened stylistic fluency.
The other significant influence is Terry Zwigoff's extraordinary documentary portrait of artist R Crumb. A primal menace bleeds through the film like sulfur. Like the Zwigoff work, the movie is a charged exploration of the relationship between the id and consciousness, particularly as it relates to unorthodox creativity and the production of sexually charged material.
The Weinstein Company and First Look Studios jointly secured worldwide rights, paying some $3.5m. It's an extreme work in many respect, confrontational, occasionally mean-spirited. The movie's too feverish and knotty to achieve widespread appeal, though it is bound to resonate with contemporary hipsters and urban men and women that identity with its portrait of artistic seriousness.
The excellent cast, headed by Billy Crudup and Mandy Moore, supported by excellent work from Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban and Dianne Wiest, lifts this above the fray. Internationally English-language markets and home video are the ones most likely to snap this title up.
Theroux adapts a first script by David Bromberg, exploring the intersected fates of two artists, one a writer, Henry Roth (Crudup), a specialist in children's fiction; and Lucy (Moore), a designer, who become unlikely collaborators.
The movie's unstable, astringent tone is established emotionally in the sexual and artistic eruptions of Roth (Crudup), a mass of unfiltered rage and raging contradictions. He lives in Greenwich Village loft, leery of women, deying any romantic attachment and mistrustful of authority.
Roth's only ally and meaningful friend is Rudy (Wilkinson), his illustrator and confidante. After a stint at a pornographic theatre to unblock their creativity tension, the two come up with their newest creation, Rudy The Beaver, instantaneously drawing the praise and admiration of their quixotic, droll publisher (Balaban, who is fantastic).
The book is a tremendous success, though it does nothing to alleviate Henry's disgruntlement or alter his disturbingly negative view of human existence.
His rage takes another turn after Rudy dies from complications of a brain tumour, necessitating a new partner. Lucy is no less conflicted, drawn to the madness and unpredictability of art, carrying out an economically marginal life, dealing with her suffocating mother (Wiest) and coping with the re-emergence of her boyfriend, Jeremy (Freeman), an English academic trying to reignite their relationship.
Henry and Lucy engage in a dance around each other, rooted in frustration, intensity of feeling and conviction of their superiority, taste and talent. Theroux and Bromberg take a screwball conceit, a classic battle of the sexes, and find humor, conflict and pain in ferreting out who's the first to break.
Theroux's style takes some getting used to, particularly his penchant for close ups. His facility with actors is first rate, and he has the conviction of his talent. The cinematography by Stephen Kazmierski is black on black, and he has a wonderful way of capturing faces and movement. Andy Keir's editing is swift, fluid, ecstatic.
Crudup gives a disciplined, gritty performance that is highly suggestive, uncompromising in his refusal to appear likeable though one typically open to feeling and change. This is Moore's most substantial performance, a delicious blend of light and dark, her work filled with versatility and range.
As its title suggests Dedication is meant to inflame, to make you feel uncomfortable and unsettled. The script and direction are sometimes prickly and difficult to take. The lack of polish, the raggedness of the material, underscores its faults though it also makes it distinctive and difficult to forget.
Daniela Taplin Lundberg