Trust the Man (Fox Searchlight Pictures, R)

As individual vignettes, each part works fine. A couple in therapy confounds their counselor? Cool. A married woman comes on to an ex-boyfriend in a crowded club? Great.

 

 

Trust the Man really tries to overcome tired rom-com conventions. The film mostly manages this by avoiding principles audiences usually enjoy. Ideas like completed plotlines, or logical reasoning for characters' behavior, for instance.

Ask anyone who makes movies and they'll probably tell you that comedy, she is hard. Romantic comedies are even trickier. If you watch more than two of them you'll probably see a familiar pattern arise in the worst of the bunch.

Girl and Boy meet. They hate each other outwardly and lust for each other inwardly. Girl and Boy give in to their feelings and try the relationship or casual sex thing. Then something ridiculous comes between them, but that complication is removed just in time for the couple to ride into the sunset together. Now you're finally free to relieve the numbing pressure on your butt and in your brain. Blech.

Trust the Man thankfully skips to step three; the two couples it focuses on are already living and loving in New York. Rebecca (Julianne Moore) and Tom (David Duchovny) live married life with their two kids, while Rebecca's brother Tobey (Billy Crudup) seems settled into his relationship with longtime live-in love Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Each couple goes through a series of changes as they dodge flying spoons, endure towed vehicles and navigate internet porn. Oh my; the hilarity, it is killing me.

Okay, that makes it sound worse than it is. Trust the Man is actually quite funny, but those funny scenes don't really add up to an amusing, cohesive whole. As individual vignettes, each part works fine. A couple in therapy confounds their counselor? Cool. A married woman comes on to an ex-boyfriend in a crowded club? Great. An adulterer gets punched in the balls? Even better! Writer, director Bart Freundlich tries to provide connective tissue for these events but, aside from the fact that the characters remain the same, it purely doesn't work.

Another regrettable script issue is the parade of dropped plot points. There are several times when we see a minor development that appears to be a secondary storyline. The audience is given a taste of these stories and then abandoned.

For example, one character has written and illustrated a children's book that she's trying to get published. After she has an odd meeting with a potential publisher, we never hear anything about her book again. This doesn't come off as being an attempt by Freundlich to say that life's unpredictable. Instead, it looks mighty lazy.

We're also treated to a couple of situations where the characters make decisions, and we have no idea why. Sure, people often do things without understanding why themselves. The character doesn't have to comprehend their actions. But the audience should always at least be given some clues to their behavior.

Speaking of lazy, am I the only one who's getting tired of New York City? Doesn't it seem a bit easy, especially after decades of films set in the place, to rely on its cool factor? Don't misunderstand, I've been there and loved it, but let's be honest. It's not the only city in the United States where people can have interesting, exciting lives. Believe it or not, plenty of people in, say, St. Louis, go to fancy restaurants and choke on cake and watch equine porn and get bad oral sex. I'm just saying.

The performances are the best part of this movie. Moore is one of our best actors, and she's done her time in formulaic romantic comedies that waste her talents before. Here, however, at least there are enough odd comedic moments to keep her on her toes. Crudup and Gyllenhaal work well as the long-term live-ins with diverging goals. From the outset we see that Crudup's boyishness is his main source of charm, and understand how Gyllenhaal could let her dreams be waylaid by this. Finally, we have Duchovny in all his snarky, smart, aging frat boy glory. He's almost certainly still too Mulder for most people to accept him as a leading man, but he proves here that if given the chance he's capable of making dialogue about a Mommy and Me group sing just like an alien abduction plot.

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