It's Henry's movie, and for all his eccentricities and fixations and rages, he's a very conventional man.


Director: Justin Theroux
Cast: Billy Crudup, Mandy Moore, Tom Wilkinson, Martin Freeman, Bob Balaban, Dianne Wiest, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Peter Bogdanovich
MPAA rating: R
Studio: The Weinstein Company
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-08-24 (Limited release)

Miserable and fiercely protective of it, Henry (Billy Crudup) is a children's book writer. His longtime relationship with illustrator Rudy (Tom Wilkinson) keeps him on something like an even keel. Given the difficulty of coming up with ideas for new and marketable kids' product, they like to work loosely -- finding inspiration in the least expected places. Or at least that's the impression you get from the opening scene of Dedication, in which they're in a theater watching a porn movie -- the mere fact that they seek out such entertainment/stimulation in a theater makes them seem quirky. "Oh god damn it, Henry, I think we've seen this one before," grumbles Rudy. And then Rudy hears what he needs to hear when an actress demands, "Touch my beaver."

A-ha! Rudy hustles his partner out of the theater, content.

It seems an ideal relationship. Rudy puts up with Henry's general grumpiness and self-absorption (close-ups of his repeated rearranging of items on diner tables suggest he's got control, OCD, and/or other anxiety issues). Henry is bemused by Rudy's working methods, takes his paternal advice to heart, and acts out occasionally in front of their patient and well-rewarded publisher, Arthur Planck (Bob Balaban). And Justin Theroux's directorial debut suggests he's got a sense of how time and subjectivity might be fractured on screen. Given his work as an actor with David Lynch, such an inclination may be predictable. It's also not surprising that, despite or because of Rudy's charm, it's Henry who provides the film's structure, his tense, angry, depressive sensibility that fractures it.

Henry's font of need is the film's point of departure. He looks to Rudy for answers, or more precisely, frequent conversation, concerning his grievances, for instance, that his most recent girlfriend has left him because he won't agree to marry her. Indeed, Henry's primary commitment -- his dedication, as the film's title has it -- lies with Rudy, the father he never had, the stable force in his otherwise chaotic emotional existence. But, as much as Henry means to cling to Rudy's bits of insight ("We communicate nowadays through damage," or "Finish the damn book," meaning Henry's "real" book, not the stories he writes for money), David Bromberg's script has something else in store for Henry. As Rudy puts it to him, "Find a nice girl."

This directive becomes too cute when Rudy discovers he has a brain tumor and dies, leaving Henry friendless and illustratorless. He continues to converse with Rudy throughout the film, in scenes that seem set in his head, but also seated on a sculpture of a globe, a neat metaphor for the world of pain in which Henry resides. The gimmick allows Henry to imagine himself in relation to someone else, even as he is clearly only interested in himself. You've surmised by now that he is unhealthy. "If you keep hanging around with you, you're gonna kill yourself," observes Rudy from his inside/outside, living/dead perspective.

Lucy (Mandy Moore), the nice girl, arrives pretty much on cue. (And we might take a moment to give thanks for all the imaginative, smart, supportive, loving girls available to broken men in recent movies, from Garden State to Lonesome Jim to The Bourne Ultimatum.) Because the beaver book has been a gigantic success, Arthur assesses that a sequel is in order. And so, following an appropriate period of mourning, he finds a replacement for Rudy and demands that Henry fulfill the terms of his contract by working with her -- and meet a deadline for a Christmas-themed story and holiday publication date. Henry, of course, hates Lucy on sight because she is not Rudy, and spends the rest of the film working out his many difficulties in relation to girls in general and Lucy in particular.

She brings a bit of baggage, such that she does live in scenes that do not involve Henry. She lives in a building owned by her mother, Carol (Dianne Wiest), who charges her rent and worries, loudly, about her career choice. She has an ex-boyfriend, Jeremy (Martin Freeman), a professor of English literature who was also her "adviser." His about-to-be-published academic tome will make him famous in certain circles, and he's decided he wants her, as he's reached the point in his life when a wife would be appropriate. Lucy, as quick and perceptive as she might appear to be, is just dumb when it comes to Jeremy, such that his offer of "security" resembles a means to independence from her mother, and, more importantly, to complication for Henry.

Though Henry tries very hard not to like Lucy, Dedication's generic demands soon overwhelm him. This means he must work through his particular specific emotional disorders, more or less one by one: he tends to say whatever comes into his mind, he's deathly afraid of cars, he hates the beach, etc. And so, a sequence of events leads him to reconsider what he says to Lucy, agree to ride in and eventually drive a car (imagine the hilarity of Henry wearing a bike helmet while inside the vehicle!), and spend time at the beach, seeking inspiration for the Christmas beaver story.

Henry even goes so far as to appreciate her appreciation for telescopes, which she explains thusly: "My brother used to have one of these. He used to think the universe was his personal property. I think most men feel that way." If Henry -- so willfully idiosyncratic, annoyed, and isolated -- doesn't understand himself as lumped in with "most men," you get the thumping point. So Mandy-Mooreishly sweet and generous, Lucy puts up with contrived coincidences and deliberate cruelties en route to her correct choice. If only she had known Rudy or -- better -- if only Dedication had known that it really is about Rudy and Henry, she might have avoided her all too conventional fate. But it's Henry's movie, and for all his eccentricities and fixations and rages, he's a very conventional man.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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