Title: Trust the Man
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: Bart Freundlich
Screenwriters: Bart Freundlich
Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup
Is there an audience for this sort of R-rated sitcom? The target demographic seems to be arthouse filmgoers looking for frivolity, which strikes me as a hit-and-miss strategy. But perhaps it feels strange only because Trust the Man is so emphatically average: featherweight and hyperactive, it has a lot of smugly calculated jokes and a cast full of actors who try really hard, but it never coalesces emotionally, and the comedy doesn’t make much of an impression.
Writer-director Bart Freundlich is to be commended, I suppose, for attempting a more-or-less mainstreem comedy utterly without a high concept. In the age of Click (“magic remote control”) and Talladega Nights (“Will Ferrell NASCAR”), to get a character-based relationship comedy financed, produced and into wide release is no mean feat — though I imagine it’s a little easier if you’re married to Julianne Moore. In any event, Trust the Man is difficult to encapsulate in a short phrase, though I’m sure some clever logline writer managed it. If nothing else, it’s at least good to see a movie I can’t entirely map out from a three-word plot description.
What it is, instead, is a low-key, inoffensively raunchy, somewhat slapsticky comedy about two couples on a journey from relationship confusion to, hopefully, relationship bliss. The trouble with Rebecca (Julianne Moore), a successful actress, and Tom (David Duchovny, largely a stay-at-home dad, begins with perceived sexual dysfunction (Psychatrist: “What are the issues?” Tom: “No sex.” Rebecca: “Well, that’s your issue.”) and escalates into Tom’s realization that he “doesn’t know who he is,” or where he’s headed. The movie being what it is, his method of discovering who he is involves attending a support group for nymphomaniacs and having an affair with a fellow parent of a kindergardener.
Rebecca’s younger brother Tobey (Billy Crudup), meanwhile, struggles to hold on to his budding novelist girlfriend Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal). They’ve been dating forever, and Elaine grows weary of her boyfriend’s utter lack of ambition, be it in their relationship or his career. Crudup is terrific, imbuing his character with such a pervasive, convincing immaturity that we flinch when reminded that Tobey is, in fact, in his 30s. The best part of the film may be Tobey’s relationship with Tom, a vaguely adversarial friendship that I found affecting.
And so Trust the Man meanders through a bunch of kind-of-funny scenes, occasionally stopping for an emotional beat, and culminating in an overwrought dramatic climax that seems out of place. Some of the gags work, but many of them don’t; Tom’s support group excursions are particularly ridiculous, with Freundlich reaching for a level of absurd comedy that he doesn’t seem ready for. We like the characters well enough, but they never become real. This is a movie of half-measures and near-misses. It seems content to exist in a weird sort of no-man’s land.