Bitterness yields to a bruised but earned sense of reciprocity in Justin Theroux’s wintry directorial debut—a romance that feels, for better or worse, like a John Hughes film. (In this critic’s eyes, better.) Following the Hughes formula, there’s a fashionable pop soundtrack, much of it by the spacey San Francisco rock trio Deerhoof. More importantly, there’s a constant flow of slightly plastic bitchiness, launched by Billy Crudup (in the Judd Nelson part) as a temperamental children’s author mourning his recently deceased collaborator (Wilkinson). His anger is directed at freelance illustrator Mandy Moore, who looks like Ally Sheedy but is definitely the film’s Molly Ringwald: bescarved soul mate in waiting.
The two are forced into completing a book together, and Dedication similarly commits to a trajectory that might seem obvious to many. Still, the emotional journey in David Bromberg’s original script is satisfying, with both leads emerging as stronger performers. In Moore’s case, this means revealing chops and a more secure confidence playing a less-than-perfect character; Crudup, meanwhile, finally unveils a human heart. Fans of Theroux’s work with David Lynch—especially his sarcastic turn as the movie director in Mulholland Drive—will be surprised to find that he has one, too.