Judge Daniel MacDonald trusts no one. And no one trusts him. That's just the way he rolls, baby.
Men play the game. Women know the score.
With Trust The Man, writer/director Bart Freundlich (The Myth Of Fingerprints) tries something new with a grounded romantic comedy following the interplay between four New Yorkers as they try to balance their needs with their partners'. It's got a lot more meat on its bones than many compatriots of the genre, but it still manages many moments that'll make you smile.
Facts of the Case
Adjusting to being a stay-at-home dad is not as easy as expected for Tom (David Duchovny, Full Frontal), and his frustrations are beginning to manifest themselves in his relationship with actress wife Rebecca (Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights). He's not getting the sex he wants, and she's feeling more and more distant.
Meanwhile, Tom's best friend (and Rebecca's brother) Tobey (Billy Crudup, Almost Famous) is doing his best to remain carefree and unencumbered, despite growing pressure from his long-time girlfriend Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal, World Trade Center) to commit to the relationship and start a family.
The four each navigate their personal crises, and try to accommodate each other's flaws while trying to stay together.
While rarely laugh-out-loud funny, Trust The Man has a lot going for it, starting with a smart, incisive script. Freundlich's previous films, with the exception of 2004's Catch That Kid (his only project for which he assumed directing but not writing duties), have all been character-centric dramas, with small notes of humor drawn specifically from the characters themselves. He has an ear for authentic and efficient dialogue, and isn't afraid to present harsh truths beside hopeful realizations. In this picture, he has maintained that telling dialogue and emotional honesty while managing to find humor in situations appearing unfunny on the surface.
The movie is attempting to compare and contrast male/female relationships, communication styles, and priorities, and it does so by exploring stereotypical problems with a fresh twist. Duchovny's character is feeling under-sexed. Unusually begins to wonder if he could be a sex addict or worse, as the audience can see much of his discontent stems from initial boredom at becoming a house husband. Crudup's character is reluctant to commit, again a familiar trope for men in the movies. But rather than write this off as typical maleness, other issues such as a fear of death are explored. On the female side, Moore plays a successful film actress looking for fulfillment in the theatre, setting her off-balance enough to contribute indirectly to the diminishment of her marriage, while Gyllenhaal's writer seems to have a strong sense of the direction in which she wants her life to go, only to find deeply-rooted uncertainty beneath the surface informing some questionable choices.
While that may sound like a lot of psycho-babble for a romantic comedy, it's never played up in the piece, with actions informing character motivations, and innocuous-sounding bits of dialogue acting as an entry point to what's really going on. Freundlich balances some really emotional acting (I thought this might be a rare film where Julianne Moore doesn't break down in tears—I was wrong) with jokes that border on slapstick, yet the tone feels fairly consistent throughout.
Duchovny and Moore have an easy chemistry in playing a convincing married couple with unspoken history and lasting affection for one another that's never completely eclipsed by the tensions in their relationship. Perhaps their previous work together in Evolution made this achievement easier; perhaps they're both just good actors. Maggie Gyllenhaal continues her quest to surpass Brian Cox (The 25th Hour) as the actor most likely to appear in whatever film you happen to be watching, giving an esoteric performance in the vein of Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. And Billy Crudup continues to show his range, following his slick turn in M:I:III with this troubled slacker; his character could have easily become wholly unlikable, but somehow he manages to win our sympathy. This is first and foremost an actor's piece, and the cast does an admirable job.
I appreciated the simple compositions and rich colors presented in Tim Orr's (Undertow) cinematography. New York is obviously one of the most photogenic, and photographed, cities on Earth, but he manages to make it his own. This DVD does well to show it off, too, with a crisp picture and little grain considering the low light levels in some locations. Sound is about what you'd expect for this type of film, mostly confined to the front speakers except when the score (done by Requiem For A Dream's Clint Mansell) or a song comes on, when the surrounds briefly come to life.
About eleven minutes of deleted scenes are included, with optional commentary, a couple of which I wish had been included in the final film: a scene in an Apple Store between Moore and Crudup, while a little too long, better establishes their brother-sister relationship; and a scene featuring a doctor's visit in which Duchovny fears his vibrating testicles are an STD is just plain funny. On the flip side of the disc (it's a two-sider, with widescreen on one and bastardized on the other) is a short making-of with lots of love between cast and director but nothing particularly revealing.
The feature-length audio commentary with Duchovny and Freundlich is a chatty and easy-going affair, the two obviously sharing a friendship and both quite enamored with the film. Freundlich points out some amusing continuity errors and one bad CGI shot, but mostly describes the real-life situations that inspired scenes in the film, and the process of getting the movie made.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said, the picture is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, and contains stronger themes than you might expect for the genre. Far from escapist entertainment, this is not the movie to watch if you're looking to turn off your brain. Further, some of the jokes get a little too cerebral, falling short of their intended mark—I wouldn't characterize this as a great comedy but it is a well-made movie.
Also, the climactic scene wraps everything up just a little too well given the messiness of the picture on a whole. I fully expected the storylines to be resolved, but not all at once, and a bit of breathing room for the conclusions of the character's respective arcs would have been appreciated.
A solid rental for those with an indie sensibility, with some impressive character work and above average cinematography, I recommend checking this one out.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Bart Freundlich and David Duchovny
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