PARK CITY -- Dressed up in hip clothes, cool music and an irreverent attitude, "Dedication" is, at heart, an old-fashioned love story charmingly told by first time director Justin Theroux. Although it sometimes strains for the quirky, film is buoyed by winning performances by Billy Crudup and Mandy Moore. This one could really catch on as a date destination for the indie crowd.

Henry Roth (Crudup) is a misanthropic children's book writer who works with his crusty illustrator friend Rudy Holt (Tom Wilkinson). Henry apparently has been battered and abused by life and Rudy, equally cantankerous, is virtually the only person he can get along with. After pitching an idea to kids book mogul Arthur Planck (Bob Balaban, in another one of his amusing deadpan executive roles), the guys have a huge success with "Marty the Beaver's Christmas Dam."

But everyday life is a tough thing for Henry to handle. Script by David Bromberg gives him an assortment of tics and eccentricities: He can't sleep next to his girlfriend (Christine Taylor), can barely sleep at all unless he is weighted-down by a stack of books. And if that wasn't enough, he's obsessive compulsive about turning a key only counter-clockwise and the arrangement of the place settings in his local greasy spoon. Oh, and he's scared stiff of riding in cars. He's like an amalgam of every neurotic Woody Allen character ever created. But the surprising thing is, Crudup is so good and so inherently likable that he makes the character appealing, even if his shtick sometimes seems contrived.

Unfortunately, when Rudy checks out with a brain tumor, Henry is left even more adrift and bereft. Planck pairs him up with a new illustrator, Lucy Riley (Mandy Moore), a grad-school dropout with her own problems whom Henry hates and, of course, abuses.

But anyone with eyes can see what's going to happen next. Coached by Rudy's ghost (dead people are always coming back to give advice in movies), he falls for her and gradually wrestles his demons to the ground as only movie characters can. The problem is, Lucy has an old boyfriend -- her smarmy ex-professor -- knocking on her door, and she's just not sure what to do.

If the storyline seems like a conventional boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl, it is. But Crudup and Moore, in a sweet performance of her own, make such a nice couple and have real chemistry together that you can't help but root for them. And Theroux has put the pieces together in a way that makes it seem fresh. One big asset is his excellent use of music, including the child-like plaintive wailing of a group called Deerhof. Other smart choices include songs by Cat Power and the Stokes, all expertly edited into the flow of the story.

The film is effectively shot on locations in New York and Sag Harbor by Steve Kazmierski. For all of the nervousness of the characters, Theroux keeps the camera relatively calm and employs some interesting angles. But for a film like this, it is ultimately about the characters, and these are good ones worth spending some time with.

Plum Pictures, Hart/Lunsford Pictures
Credits: Director: Justin Theroux; Writer: David Bromberg; Producers: Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg; Executive Producers: Galt Niederhoffer, Justin Theroux, Chip Seelig, Luke Weinstock; Director of Photography: Steve Kazmierski; Production Designer: Teresa Mastropierro; Music: Tracy McNight; Additional Music: Deehof; Costume Designer: Heidi Bivens; Editor: Andy Keir.
Cast: Henry Roth: Bill Crudup; Lucy Riley: Mandy Moore; Rudy Holt: Tom Wilkinson; Robin: Dianne Weist; Jeremy: Martin Freeman; Arthur Planck: Bob Balaban; Allison: Christine Taylor.

No MPAA rating, running time: 111 minutes