Inland Empire‘s Justin Theroux pops his directorial cherry with this obnoxious Sundance throwaway, a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that mistakenly believes it’s either too quirky or too irreverent to be a by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Billy Crudup leads as Henry, an obsessive-compulsive, misanthropic writer of children’s stories whose oppressive anxieties are only forestalled by piling heavy books on his chest. (How quirky!) When Henry’s illustrating partner and long-time bud (Tom Wilkinson) croaks after their porno-inspired Marty the Beaver becomes a bestseller (how irreverent!), an up-and-coming illustrator named Lucy (Mandy Moore) is forced upon him to finish a second Marty tale in time for Christmas. Henry hates Lucy, has no qualms about telling her so, yet after stargazing, the two play out the genre formula (i.e., boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, roll credits). Theroux hasn’t quite developed a style beyond going buck wild with flash cuts and musical interludes (aided by a
Garden State–like soundtrack), and his amateur attempts at sound design—David Lynch meets Walter Murch—do nothing to enhance the experience. The real villain, however, is screenwriter David Bromberg, whose choice to bring Wilkinson back as Crudup’s conscience is almost as cringe-worthy as our anti-hero’s speech to Lucy about his neuroses; when Henry says he can’t throw away a towel because he’s afraid it might have feelings, even Miranda July will want to throttle him.