Trust the Man
Dir. and writ. Bart Freundlich; feat. David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eva Mendes, Garry Shandling, Ellen Barkin (R)
Trust the Man is like that bright-eyed kid in class with the wrinkled pants. You know the one: He doesn’t have his homework quite done, what he has finished is teeming with basic spelling errors and stained clear through with Yoo-Hoo and breakfast-burrito detritus, and he thinks a deftly placed, smart-ass joke can save any situation, though his attempts at such more than occasionally fall flat. But he’s made you laugh enough during the year, and he’s so genuinely eager to please that you know you’re going to pass him — as soon as you can find a reasonable justification to do so.
In this arena, Bart Freundlich’s latest effort owes much to the exuberant Billy Crudup, who has more palpable on-screen fun than any actor so far this year (with the possible exception of Samuel L. Jackson) and provides the best, most consistent reason to keep watching what is, in truth, a flawed and rather superficial film.
Crudup, whom you’ll recognize as the taciturn, wide-grinned, mustachioed “Golden God” guitarist of Almost Famous (assuming the name doesn’t quite ring) plays half of one of the two couples with which Trust the Man concerns itself; Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Elaine is his long-suffering mate, who, after more than half a decade together, is thinking “kids, marriage,” while Crudup’s Tobey is too concerned with his own mortality to ponder anything more long-term than the next SportsCenter. In the other (“main”) storyline, Tobey’s actress sister Rebecca (Moore, who is married to director Freundlich), no longer seems to care much for sex, and her husband Tom (Duchovny) worries that he may be addicted to it.
But it isn’t plot that shoulders the burden of saving Trust the Man, it’s characterization — and thank God for that. The actors seem very comfortable with each other, which goes a long way to fill out an all-too-conventional story. Duchovny ably plies his deadpan, which is what you get with him, but he and Crudup play off each other well, their polar-opposite energy levels combining to create an easy, believable relationship. Gyllenhaal isn’t handed a whole lot, and must content herself with being cute — though she and Crudup own the best slam-bang scene in the film: a devilishly entertaining after-dinner yelling match in a room with too-thin walls. Moore revisits familiar territory as Rebecca, a seemingly together woman who has moments of emotional implosion, and does it reasonably well — it just isn’t terribly interesting when you’ve seen her do it better, and several times, elsewhere. But again, it is Crudup who gives the film its life, nailing nearly every joke and drastically enlivening every scene he’s in, without becoming cumbersome or upstaging his castmates.
Lest we forget, though: There are many, many aspects of the film that don’t work, not the least of which are tangents regarding a sex-addict support group for Tom, a new singer boyfriend for Elaine, and a number of feckless cameos, the strangest and most left-field of which is Ellen Barkin’s, as a lesbian book publisher — which, admittedly, gets one laugh, but then disappears, and might as well never have happened.
Frankly, Trust the Man isn’t great — it brushes over things, jumps around; issues like infidelity are introduced via montage, keeping the viewer emotionally at bay. It is not deeply rewarding, but it is light, fluffy, painless — and, depending on your mood, fun.