[Screen It]

(2006) (Julianne Moore, David Duchovny) (R)

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Dramedy: Two couples -- one married, the other dating -- must deal with the trials and tribulations of their relationships.
In New York City, there are millions of couples, some young, some old, some happy, and others on the verge of breaking up. In between are those having problems, such as Tom (DAVID DUCHOVNY) and Rebecca (JULIANNE MOORE). She's a famous actress rehearsing for a Broadway show, while he's a stay-at-home dad to their young child.

While they'd seem to have it all, their lack of sexual compatibility has their marriage in disarray, resulting in him taking a liking to single mom Pamela (DAGMARA DOMINCZYK), while Rebecca must contend with young theater worker Jasper (JUSTIN BARTHA) putting the moves on her.

At the same time, her unemployed brother Tobey (BILLY CRUDUP) can't go the extra step with his longtime girlfriend Elaine (MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL), an office worker and aspiring writer. She feels her biological clock ticking, but his obsession with death has left him phobic of marriage.

When she eventually dumps him, he takes up with a married acquaintance, Faith (EVA MENDES), but can't stop thinking about Elaine. As the weeks wear on, the two couples try to sort through their various relationship-based issues.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
"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 indicative beginning for Bart Freundlich's latest excavation of domestic 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 and Billy Crudup as his brother-in-law Tobey. Both are men in search of purpose, in the insipid sense. They are also, as the film's opening metaphor suggests, seeking some kind of movement, a way to stay relevant in their own lives.

While Tom is visibly 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 restless, which he fashions as a refusal to "commit," by way of marriage, anyway, to his girlfriend of seven-years-and-counting, Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

An aspiring children's book writer, she's also actually fond of children, to the point of wanting to have them. Tobey, on the other hand and 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. He's a witty guy, and not incapable of charm -- when she's 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 romantic comedies. They also attend couples therapy sessions if they're married. In this case, Tom and Rebecca have committed only to go once a year, which means, as the good Dr. Beekman (Garry Shandling) puts it, they aren't making much "progress."

Instead, their "issue" is pretty much what you'd expect. He wants more sex, while 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. A product of years of typical privilege and presumption, he's dissatisfied but again, unable or unwilling to move.

And so it is that "Trust the Man" makes exceedingly regular use of romantic comedic conventions. The men must find themselves as 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 move out (he's so distrustful that he begins to stalk his therapist [Bob Balaban], imagining if he discovers some secret, "something" will be different).

Told that he's a "rebel," Tom takes it as a joke and as a sort of truth; this despite the cliché that he's living. Somehow, 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 loves her and also needs to punish her.

Likewise, Tobey finds mostly childish ways to push Elaine away, under the guise of efforts that seem naïve, even sweet, but also anxious and selfish. When, for instance, she says she'd like a videotape of "the Ferlinghetti documentary," he mishears her, and then records a Serengeti 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 "show some cleavage," in a cheesecake 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 sincerely trying to thwart her just-beginning career is hard to say. No matter: Elaine trusts him.

"Trust the Man" is, as its title suggests, about trust, primarily, women trusting men and men finding themselves (at least it's self-aware in this respect, its last-act "Graduate" allusion more jokey than plaintive). But even as Tom urges Tobey to stop thinking the "world is against [him]," to "have a little trust," it's clear the film is belaboring a very old notion, that men must learn lessons and women just come ready to trust. As much as it might seem true, it's limited too. The possibility that Elaine or Rebecca might find herself or shift her terms of trust is incidental to the guys' stories.

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. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 25, 2006 / Posted August 18, 2006

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