Reviews

Trust the Man (2005)

Matt Mazur

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.


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 DVD Release Date: 2007-02-06
Website
Trailer

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.

4

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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