Early on in the movie Trust the Man, director Bart Freundlich feebly attempts to let his viewers know that this will be one of those love-letter to NYC films, in which the city will be featured as a prominent character in an already splashy cast. Cue pristine (yet remarkably stock) New York City footage of Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, et.al, in which said all-star cast can been spotted frolicking.
You hope you might be in store for an amiable Sex in the City-style knockoff, but instead you get an urban, angst-filled mess. The problem comes when the city takes a back seat to the central quartet of less interesting characters: two dysfunctional couples, Tom and Rebecca and Toby and Elaine. A motley crew of yuppies reveling in their own vain, selfish problems and banality, they might not be entirely relatable (be thankful that they aren’t your friends), but they definitely prove to be mildly entertaining, if you enjoy a movie that borders on being so bad that it’s actually enjoyable.
Elaine (played with relative style by the ethereal Julianne Moore) is a renowned film and stage actress whose husband Tom (a milquetoast-y David Duchovny) is a stay-at-home father, bored and disenchanted with his station in life. Toby (Billy Crudup), brother of Rebecca, best friend of Tom, and boyfriend of seven years to art gallery chick Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal, who last year displayed a clever knack for surviving a host of mediocre movies between this, World Trade Center, Stranger than Fiction, and Sherrybaby), is a bad-mannered, juvenile writer.
They go to lunch, they go to dinner. They engage in an assortment of broad physical comedy acts in crowded public places (viewing Crudup’s crazy middle-aged white guy club dancing is like watching a train derail; it’s positively harrowing). The rag-tag group of upscale hipsters is dissatisfied with their partners, their high-paying vocations, and their success. They present us with another boring retread of spoiled upper middle class, middle-aged Caucasian heterosexual couples’ lives as the stuff of comedy legend. Make no mistake; they are very funny, but not at all intentionally.
Duchovny and Freundlich (separately, in the rather self-serious “making of” documentary that makes up half of the disc’s tepid extras content) refer to Trust the Man as a cousin to Woody Allen’s masterpiece from the ‘70’s, Manhattan. They might be right if they take into consideration that their film is missing witty dialogue, iconic performances, and an artful use of the city. Even the music in Trust the Man is adult contemporary-awful. The only thing that this smug film has in common with anything made by Woody Allen is the city itself, which takes a back seat to all of the relationship baloney and unfortunately dated macho posturing.
Trust the Man is filled with passé, sophomoric jokes about sex, spouted from the gaping mouths of lame aging man-children who don’t really deserve the gorgeous, smart women they have somehow landed (one particularly ugly scene involves the men saying the word “asshole” at the dinner table like two overgrown children). The male characters in the film are spoiled, whiny bourgeois Manhattanites, and their behavior towards the women in the film absolutely is not going to elicit any viewer sympathy.
While the title might imply that the film’s ladies should, indeed, “trust” their men, neither Tom nor Toby seems to give them a single reason to believe they should. Toby is basically a frat boy who can’t commit (to marriage, let alone children; something Elaine wants badly), and Tom is a much less charismatic, distaff version of Madame Bovary, who seems to be keen on finding new ways to cheat on his clueless, distant wife and still make sure the kids are picked up from school. It’s the women of the piece, specifically Moore and Gyllenhaal, that salvage any shreds of dignity from the often flighty script by infusing their own likeability into the core of their characters. Without their perspectives, the film would definitely be unwatchable.
In particular Moore (playing, what she calls in the “making of” documentary, basically “herself”; looking amazing while doing it) hasn’t been this warm and natural (not to mention modern) on screen in some years. The real peril for Moore here seems to be the age old chestnut “never work with your significant other”: she has acted in two of her real-life paramour Freundlich’s other major film outings (The Myth of Fingerprints and World Traveler), to varying personal degrees of success, but the director hasn’t yet made a movie worthy of her immense talents. To his credit, he does try to offer Moore a showcase that allows her to display her gift for sweet humor; something that her very dramatic oeuvre is sorely lacking. A reminder: Freedomland is not technically a comedy.
As the men begin to make bad decision after bad decision, their women wisely give them the boot. The cinematic carnage that follows in Trust the Man is much like a classic disaster flick; a cataclysmic cyclone of romantic comedy formulas. It comes complete with the cherry-on-top, out-of-a-storybook ending, where everyone walks off into the sunset in love and in bliss with one another. Despite the fact that the behavior of the men is so dastardly and arrogant that in real life the women would likely murder them. The reality of these characters is non-existent; no one behaves this way and gets away with it, and it’s highly obnoxious when the lame bad-boy antics of these buffoonish middle class, middle-aged white men take over the film’s focus (Tom and Toby even have the audacity to say “you the man” more than once, which is utterly nauseating).
If you can make it to the gooey, nonsense-filled end, in which the corny, unromantic love stories of these non-humans agonizingly plays out in front of a Broadway show crowd’s shrill applause meter, you may actually qualify for some sort of special medal. Trust the Man is definitely enjoyable: as one of the guiltiest of pleasures that you only watch at home during the cold, dark winter, with the curtains drawn, alone and in shame with a whole bag of potato chips. Dip is not optional, of course.