(This film review of “Trust the Man” originally appeared in the Australian Jewish News on November 3, 2006.)
Written and directed by Bart Freundlich
When making a film about modern relationships, one of the challenges for a Jewish film-maker – for any film-maker for that matter – is to avoid the comparison with Woody Allen. Although the septuagenarian Allen’s star has dimmed in recent years, for more than two decades he was the undisputed master of dissecting relationships between upper-middle class New Yorkers.
Bart Freundlich is one of Allen’s successors. With films such as “The Myth of Fingerprints”, this Jewish New York film-maker has updated and claimed the relationship territory for his own. Freundlich’s recently released film “Trust the Man” continues this pattern, and gives us some memorable and pleasantly flawed “thirtysomething” characters.
The film revolves around two interlocking couples. Tom Pollack (David Duchovney) is a former advertising executive who has newly taken on the role of “house husband” and full-time father to two pre-school children while his successful actress wife Rebecca (Julianne Moore, also appearing in “Children of Men” – and Freundlich’s real life wife) takes on a new major theatre role at the Lincoln Center. Tobey (Billy Crudup) is Rebecca’s brother, a handsome quick-talker who assiduously avoids commitment with his girlfriend of seven years Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Like the films of Woody Allen, they live in a New York City of trendy cafes, but with no crime, no poor people or apparent money worries, all living in lovely flats and townhouses. Their worst fears are having their car towed and surviving adultery. Aside from a fleeting reference to being able to leave the city quickly, there is no reference to the post-modern world of terrorism.
“Trust the Man” charts the obvious problems facing these four terribly attractive people: lack of sexual desire, commitment and professional fulfillment; and their psychotherapy – two hilarious Jewish therapists, and a group for sex-addicts at “Sensei” Goldberg’s dojo which Tom attends. All up, the film does a pretty good job of scraping over the scabs that develop on the wounds of male-female romance in the 21st century.
The screenplay is underwritten and unfocussed (including a final scene in a theatre that is clunky in both writing and execution), but the true pleasure in “Trust the Man” is in its four main characters. All are wonderfully cast, give truly exceptional performances and endow this film with more weight, humour and depth than it might otherwise deserve. The film also includes nice cameos from Garry Shandling, Ellen Barkin, James Le Gros and Eva Mendes.