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Trust the Man

There's a certain brand of relationship film that well-heeled show-folk make every once in a while. These movies are notable mostly for their staggering remove from any larger human reality. They're usually set in a New York fantasia where every restaurant is Sardi's and everyone lives in a nice apartment and can afford a therapist. They're usually about witty, neurotic men who work as writers or media stars struggling with their desires to cheat on their ridiculously hot/intelligent wives and lovers. Everyone's wearing oatmeal-colored clothes and gazing at navels the size of dinner plates in a hermetically sealed bubble of privilege. And while the men usually end up doing the right thing, there's always a big thematic undercurrent where the women in their lives (and you, the viewer) are also asked to root for these moral amateurs at their absolute priapic worst. Sometimes these movies are Manhattan. Sometimes, unfortunately, they're Trust the Man (2005). Written and directed by Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints), it reportedly sat on the studio shelf for about a year before theatrical release, and it depicts two couples grappling with all of the above. The first couple is successful actress Rebecca (Julianne Moore, Freundlich's wife) and her porn-obsessed, stay-at-home husband Tom (David Duchovny). The second is children's-book writer Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her fatalistic, slackerrific freelance-writer boyfriend Tobey (Billy Crudup) — who also happens to be Rebecca's brother and Tom's best friend. Tom cheats. Tobey dithers. Both women kick their man-boys to the curb and worry about children and look noble and pretty. The boys fret about maturity and commitment. Broadly sketched alternate lovers come on to all four parties. And then, after presenting at least the veneer of a sophisticated adult comedy — albeit one with crasser-than-usual jokes — the whole thing is resolved at a performance of Rebecca's play in an ending so over-the-top it feels like the last scene of Crocodile Dundee tacked on to Annie Hall. (Seriously. We're talking declarations of love shouted across the auditorium, oohing crowds, all that nonsense.) In various moment, the cast polishes a great deal of Freundlich's script — the man can direct actors. Duchovny's minimalism effortlessly sells minimum-strength gags, Crudup has a very funny look of ironic mortification that he toots like a car horn throughout the film, and the two of them have a wonderfully loose buddy chemistry. And everyone peppers their performances with great little throwaway moments; watch how Gyllenhaal looks off to one side as her long-suffering, baby-craving character says the words "completely barren" while talking with Crudup. But after the movie completely fails to stick its landing, the problems start retroactively creeping up: It looks and sounds sophisticated, but it's really a bunch of fairly ham-fisted sex jokes; the alternate love interests are conveniently stupid; and the characters are caricatured — the women are all about commitment and family and nobility, and the men are all sex and sports and slacking and self. Finally, you add it up, and you realize that Trust the Man has some good laughs courtesy of its cast — but they're basically papering over a script that's masquerading as urbane and trenchant when it's really, at its core, self-involved and didactic and more than a little foolish. Fox's DVD release offers a good anamorphic (2.35:1) and full-frame (1.33:1) transfers on opposite sides of the disc, while extras include a commentary with director Bart Freundlich and star David Duchovny, the featurette "Reel Love: The Making of Trust the Man," and deleted scenes with optional commentary. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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