Trust the Man (2005)

Trust the Man is primarily focused on women trusting men, because the men find it nearly impossible to trust each other.

Trust the Man

Director: Bart Freundlich
Cast: Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eva Mendes, Ellen Barkin, James LeGros
Distributor: Fox
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2006-08-18 (Limited release)

"I'm trying to poop, but I can't." So announces David (Liam Broggy), young son of Tom (David Duchovny), erstwhile ad copy writer and current house-husband. Dad stands just outside the bathroom door to offer advice. "Sometimes," he says, "if you just sit there, the fart will work its way out."

Part obvious and part obscure, the exchange is an apt beginning for Bart Freundlich's latest melodrama, Trust the Man. This version (after 1997's The Myth of Fingerprints and 2001's World Traveler) features sardonic humor along with the familiar dreariness, most often delivered dryly by Duchovny (whose deadpan affect is precisely right here) and Billy Crudup as his brother-in-law Tobey. Both are men in search of purpose, in the insipid sense. They are, as the film's opening metaphor suggests, seeking some kind of movement, a way to stay relevant in their own lives.

While Tom is manifestly bored with his stay-at-home gig, his famous actor wife Rebecca (Julianne Moore) does her best not to notice, being busy working, that is, out of the house. Her brother Tobey, a sportswriter by trade, is also a restless neurotic by temperament. He sees his refusal to "commit," by way of marriage, anyway, to his girlfriend of seven-years-and-counting, Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal) as a sign of his independence.

An aspiring children's book writer, Elaine is also actually fond of children, to the point of wanting to have them. Tobey predictably prefers not to take on that responsibility because, apparently, he's got this "thing" about death. He's scared of it, and somehow, kids inspire that fear. (As does Elaine, though he's reluctant to make that connection.) Tobey's lack of trust, in other words, is rooted in rather standard notions of what it means to be a man in 21st century urban America.

Tobey is witty, and not incapable of charm. When Elaine is frustrated that he's obsessed with his parking space to the point of refusing to drive her to an appointment for fear of losing it, he reminds her of why he dotes on his car, because, after all, "The first time I saw you I was in that car." And now, well, he won't give her a ride in it. Elaine puts up with this illogic because, well, that's what girls do in melodrama.

For her part, Rebecca attends couples therapy sessions with Tom, in order to articulate efficiently some basic conflicts in the marriage. Though Dr. Beekman (Garry Shandling) points out that they'd make more "progress" if they came in more than once a year, Tom and Rebecca don't actually want to change their dynamic. That would be too scary. The "issue" they do voice is pretty much what you'd expect: he wants more sex, she thinks he's a "sex maniac" because he wants it "twice a day and always from behind." Though Tom eventually self-diagnoses as a sexaholic, even attending 12-step meetings, the movie intimates that his particular pathology is broadly symptomatic, not only individual. He's a product of years of typical privilege and presumption, dissatisfied but again, unable to move just yet.

If Tom's sex addiction is sensational (not to say "trendy"), Tobey's pathology is more mundane (not to say "Woody Allenesque"). A longtime therapy patient himself, Tobey distrusts his doctor (Bob Balaban). When asking about the doctor's family history yields no information, Tobey begins to stalk him, literally following him on the sidewalk, imagining if he discovers some secret, something will be different. That he has no notion of what that something would be or what he wants, Tobey is perpetually childish, so acutely that you wonder why Elaine puts up with any of it.

And so: as the men must find themselves, the women wait to be discovered as the means to their salvations. Tom's adventure takes the form of an affair with a fellow preschool parent, while Tobey thinks he'll be better off alone, convincing Elaine she needs to tell him to move out. When she does, he feels confirmed in his lack of trust. Told that he's a "rebel," Tom takes it as a joke and as a sort of truth, not quite getting that it's also a cliché, that is, not rebellious at all. Cheating on his wife looks defiant to him, a way to proclaim and pursue his "needs." At the same time, he puts his toe in the water of the 12-step group, making fun of them even as he comes to see his need for them (his burgeoning trust is demonstrated by the falling into their arms trick: smiles all around). Tom's self-image is clearly faulty and his reasoning circular: he loves his wife but punishes her because she doesn't understand him because he won't talk to her because he doesn't understand her because she wants to love him. And so forth.

Likewise, Tobey finds mostly juvenile ways to push Elaine away, under the guise of efforts that seem naïve, even sweet, but also fretful and selfish. When, for instance, she says she'd like a videotape of "the Ferlinghetti documentary," he mis-hears her, then records a Serengheti documentary. When she completes her book manuscript, he advises that she send in a photo of herself that's not so "goody-goody" as the one she plans to send; instead, he suggests she should "show some cleavage," in a cheesecakey photo of her in a swimsuit. "Kids," he asserts, "They love the beach, and this shows that you're fun." Whether he's tone-deaf or actually trying to thwart her just-beginning career is hard to say. No matter: Elaine trusts him.

Trust the Man is primarily focused on women trusting men, because the men find it nearly impossible to trust each other. Tom urges Tobey to stop thinking the "world is against [him]," to "have a little trust." As much as it might seem "true," this plot convention is creaky and limited. The possibility that Elaine or Rebecca might find herself or shift her terms of trust is incidental to the guys' stories (a brief "lesbian" possibility, in the form of Ellen Barkin as a children's book publisher attracted by the beach photo, is dispatched in two minutes).

Still, Tobey and Tom are unimaginatively arranged to seem the proper objects for Elaine and Rebecca. This much is comically clear when Elaine meets Dante (James Le Gros), a coffee-house musician. As self-absorbed as the other men she knows, he's also refreshingly upfront about it, not even pretending to be romantic or needy or lost. It helps that Le Gros is so irresistible and low-key energetic, but Dante is also an anomaly in Trust the Man, a man entirely trusting, of himself.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.