Reviews

Review: Trust the Man

Tom (David Duchovny) and Rebecca (Julianne Moore) are a married couple stuck in a rut. With their marriage trapped under ice, they turn to Rebecca's brother Tobey (Billy Crudup) and his longtime girlfriend, Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal); another pair caught up in the sticky web of resentment. As time ticks away, both couples have to deal with temptation and relationship reality as they try to remind themselves why they fell in love with their partners in the first place.

A more appropriate title for "Trust the Man" (IMDb listing) would be "Career Killer."

Writer/director Bart Freundlich used to be a keen observer of human behavior. In pictures such as "Myth of Fingerprints" and "World Traveler," the filmmaker showed curiosity about what makes people tick, and he crafted flawed, but still workable movies pursuing these interests.

In 2004, Freundlich went after a new genre with the family adventure film "Catch That Kid," and the result was fatigued and showed the director's inability to get excited about his subject. Now, Freundlich falls even further with "Trust the Man."

"Man" is a Woody Allen rip-off without the bubbling wit, ace cast, or technical expertise. It's a dreary, uninspired New York City romp through the pitfalls of marriage and the ties that bind. Freundlich is going after so much with his story, he can hardly keep up. He wants "Man" to be a silly comedy, an incisive look at drained relationships, and a tour guide to the more recognizable corners of New York (look everyone its Serendipity ... again). I wish I could give the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt and say his heart was in the right place, but "Man" is a misfire of epic proportions, and it's stunning that a man who has been directing for nearly 10 years could create something this sloppy.

The screenplay is broken into a million little bits, and Freundlich eventually ignores them all. Had the film been conceived as a series of vignettes about people hopelessly in love, it would be more forgivable that the director leaves so many storylines hanging in the air by the end of the film. But Freundlich really wants to capture a bigger story here, and it never gets off the ground. Little asides, such as Elaine's children's book aspirations and her run-in with a lesbian editor (Ellen Barkin), or Tobey's forward former lover (Eva Mendes), are left to twist in the wind along with 20 other subplots and ideas.

Your head will hurt more to consider that Freundlich pushed these threads aside to make room for his own display of flatulence jokes, a couple of crotch wallops, and not one, but two uses of the spit-take. And here I thought an adult was making this movie.

Even worse than the slapstick is Billy Crudup, putting in perhaps the worst performance of his career. Freundlich wants a portrait of the non-committal man at play, but Crudup tends to act like he's in "Scary Movie 5," and every new scene with him makes you want to grind your teeth to pebbles. Maggie Gyllenhaal is nearly as dreadful, but she at least understands the power of performance volume. Better are David Duchovny and Julianne Moore, who have a natural rapport. They make the film at least tolerable, but that's being kind to a film that doesn't return the favor.

Filmfodder Grade: D