Tom (Duchovny), an advertising executive turned house husband, and his wife, Rebecca (Moore), a film and theater actress, are moving inexorably toward a major relationship crisis. Finding Rebecca unresponsive and their once-a-year visit to their therapist unrewarding, Tom has turned to online and offline porn to meet his physical needs. Tom’s growing desperation makes him less attractive to Rebecca. An attractive single mom, Pamela (Dagmara Dominczyk), however, finds Tom physically attractive. Rebecca is no stranger to extra-marital attention, though. A fellow actor, Jasper (Justin Bartha), shows more than a platonic interest in his co-star.
In a parallel storyline, Tobey (Crudup), a semi-successful freelance writer and Rebecca’s younger brother, and his longtime girlfriend, Elaine (Gyllenhaal), are at a crossroads. After seven years together, Elaine wants commitment, marriage and a baby (even as she splits her focus on getting a children’s book published). Faith (Eva Mendes), an old girlfriend of Tobey’s, shows up to stir things up further. Tobey may be in his mid-thirties, but he’s still enjoying an extended adolescence. As Tobey pretends cluelessness, Elaine’s unhappiness leads to a major life-changing decision that affects them both.
In carefully tracing the problems “mature” relationships often face (e.g., familiarity, lack of physical intimacy, commitment, other sexual partners), Trust the Man starts out strongly and almost makes it to the finish line, originality and integrity intact. Freundlich honest, insightful look at romantic relationships exchanges gives way to an underwritten, clichéd, and ultimately unconvincing scene set before, during, and after Rebecca's debut performance in a theatrical production. Cue speechifying, tears, and hugs all around by the four characters as a rapt audience of theatergoers look on in admiration. In just one scene, Freundlich squanders whatever good will Trust the Man develops over its running time.
Other shortcomings, major and minor, abound: given Tom’s self-centered behavior, it's not only hard to believe Tom's transformation into a loving caring father and husband (the latter more than the former, to be fair), but more importantly, it’s next to impossible to buy into Rebecca's willingness to accept Tom’s behavior, even after a sufficient amount of time has been set aside for Tom to go on a mission to find himself. Far more believable would have been the opposite result or even something more open-ended, but still hopeful for Tom and Rebecca’s future together. Oddly, Freundlich switches up the "A" and "B" stories, resolving Tom and Rebecca’s first, then Tobey and Elaine's relationship. Then there's the neon-bright theme about putting lovers and family first and career a distant second (objectionable depending on your ideological slant).
Performance wise, David Duchovny is near-perfect as the hapless, slightly befuddled, horndog Tom, using his typically laconic delivery to add punch to Freundlich’s dialogue. As Tobey, Billy Crudup gets the opportunity to play a less focused, more manic, but still intense version of the characters he’s been essaying in films for the last half-decade. Crudup manages to find the right balance for his character, making him simultaneously sympathetic and unsympathetic. Maggie Gyllenhaal does what she can with an underwritten role while Julianne Moore (Freundlich’s significant other in the real world) coasts through a thinly disguised version of her own life. Moore gets to emote once or twice, though, but what a Moore film be without her emoting once or twice? Ellen Barkin and Garry Shandling step in for glorified cameos (they each get a scene), while Bob Balaban brings his dry world weariness to the role of Tobey’s anguished psychologist.
Sadly, Trust the Man could have been more than the end result, if only Freundlich had set aside genre conventions or audience expectations and allowed his characters to confront and resolve the long-term, sometimes, irrevocable consequences that flowed from their missteps (the emphasis then would have been on drama, not comedy or romance). If Freundlich had gone with a more open-ended, honest denouement for his characters, Trust the Man could have been a more emotionally resonant, honest film, instead of the minor disappointment we ended up with.
© Mel Valentin, 18th August, 2006
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