You have to wonder sometimes why they even bother to keep making romantic comedies. If ever there was a genre that has a formula to it, it’s rom-coms. We know that the people who are supposed to end up together will, unless of course the movie is trying to break formula, a la My Best Friend’s Wedding, in which case, maybe not. Yet even then the movie restructures itself so that the audience changes how it feels about who ends up together. Some RC’s embrace the formula too directly and the result is syrupy crud like Sweet Home Alabama and Two Weeks Notice. Others, like Bart Freundlich’s snappy new indie, Trust the Man, subvert the formula trap (well, most of the time) by giving you fresh characters and believable relationships.
Rebecca (Julianne Moore) is a Hollywood actress living in New York who is taking a break from films as she prepares for a role in a Broadway play. Her husband, Tom (David Duchovny), has recently left the cutthroat world of advertising to be a stay-at-home dad during Rebecca’s run on the Big White Way. Rebecca’s brother, Tobey (Billy Crudup), an overgrown slacker in his mid thirties, is in a long term relationship with Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a struggling children’s book author. To say that the film charts their various entanglements and disentanglements as they try to find true love isn’t much of a spoiler, but what sets Trust the Man apart is its unique set of characters performed by a winning cast.
Freundlich, whose best-known film is the indie The Myth of Fingerprints, provides the interesting structure of examining two couples at different points in their relationships. Tobey and Elaine are younger and unmarried, struggling to find out if they are meant to be together forever. Rebecca and Tom are older and have been married awhile, their domestic complacency threatening to turn into estrangement. Moore (who is married to Freundlich in real life) is good as always. Despite having the most serious role in the film, Freundlich provides her ample opportunity to exercise her comic chops. Moore’s made her name in heavy, weepy dramas, but she was marvelously funny in the unfortunately unsuccessful Laws of Attraction and she’s in equally good form here.
Duchovny, too, shows a knack for comedy (X-Files be damned) and while his subtlety occasionally threatens to drain his charisma, he is loose and wonderfully self-effacing. His relationship with Tobey is one of the most charming aspects of the film: here are two nearly middle-aged smartasses bonded through their mutual arrested development. Crudup is particularly effective in a part that showcases his comic vulnerability quite nicely. Gyllenhaal, significantly younger than her co-stars, is the only one of the quartet who occasionally seems out of her depth. She’s a good actress and she does well here, but occasionally she displays a lack of polish that threatens to undermine her performance.
Undoubtedly, some critics will find Trust the Man too precious and too romantic-comedy-ish for its own good. Such criticism certainly isn’t without merit, as the film is frequently too cute for its own good. Yet I would argue that its pretensions are inseparable from its charms—that part of what makes the film endearing is its rough edges. Ironically, Trust the Man grows more assured and endearing as its lead male characters do the same through the course of the story. Their growth, through all of their mistakes and immaturity, earns Trust the Man its title.
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